Heading out on an early season five-game road trip to tour the Western Conference, anyone observing the Raptors expected it to be eventful. Now that they’re finally back home, there’s probably some mixed feelings about just how eventful the trip ended up being.
Toronto had injuries right off the bat to two of their most important rotation pieces in Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka. They lost OG Anunoby for most of two games with an eye injury, one where he saw a specialist and rumours flew about the return of his eyewear. Then, the Raptors nevertheless found it within themselves to win three games against quality opponents — beating the Pelicans, Lakers, and forcing the Blazers to self-examine hard enough to sign Carmelo Anthony. Pascal Siakam looked like a superstar. Fred VanVleet looked like an All-Star. Bench players who were previously totally out of the rotation came in and put up numbers.
Even at a record of 3-2, it’s hard to feel bad about Toronto’s performance on what matches their longest span away from Scotiabank Arena of the season. Tonight, they return home to face an opponent who’s also making do with the circumstances — albeit theirs looking more permanent — in the Charlotte Hornets.
At 6-7, the Hornets are a bit friskier than most expected them to be coming into the season. (Read: they are not the worst team in the league, not by a fair margin). How have they done it? By winning some really close games against other struggling teams. Accounting for Charlotte’s wins, four have come by a razor’s edge — two one-point wins over the Bulls and Knicks, a two-point win over Indiana, and a three-point win over Detroit.
The quick emergence of rookie and Kansas product Devonte’ Graham has been helpful. Shooting 41.4% from distance, Graham scored 29 points in the Hornets most recent win over New York and is averaging 18.8 PPG on the season. With Terry Rozier next to him, the Hornets have a decent one-two scoring punch in the backcourt.
So what can the Raptors respond with? Let’s look at the game details and get into it.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 8:30 PM ET
Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Charlotte — Terry Rozier, Devonte’ Graham, Miles Bridges, PJ Washington, Cody Zeller
Toronto — Kyle Lowry (out - thumb), Serge Ibaka (out - ankle), Patrick McCaw (out - knee)
Charlotte — none
Attack with Siakam
Considering Charlotte’s frontcourt rotation, there’s no question that the best chance the Hornets have of beating the Raptors is with their two guards — Graham and Rozier. That means Toronto has a serious advantage in the form of Pascal Siakam.
Similar to the Portland game, where single coverage from Nassir Little and Mario Hezonja was cooked on a cast iron skillet by Siakam to the tune of 36 points, if James Borrego’s Hornets decide to go with similar one-on-one minutes with PJ Washington or Marvin Williams, there’s no doubt that Siakam can take over the game.
The Raptors would be smart to establish Pascal early on in the game to see what the Hornets game plan is. Building off of that, whether it’s continuing to feed their future All-Star or making smart plays off his double teams, can establish Toronto early in the game.
The one consistent area of improvement for the Raptors through the first 12 games of this season has been on the boards. It hasn’t helped that they’ve been without Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry, who get on the glass in very different ways — but effectively. Still, the Hornets are in the top half of the association in offensive rebound percentage (27.2%) and, while not deadly, have some guys who can clean up: Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo are energy bigs who see a fair share of minutes.
It’ll be important for Marc Gasol to play smart with positioning in the defensive end to make sure he’s ready to finish possessions. Look for guards like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to make their presence felt in this area too. His frenetic energy has helped Toronto steadily improve on the glass after a poor start to the season.
With a top five defensive team facing a bottom ten defensive team, you’d look to the stronger one to use their defence to establish tempo in the game. That should be the expectation for the Raptors, who are finally back on home court and should be energized by the opportunity.
The Hornets are young and springy, and bring some good skill players to the game in their guard rotation. For the Raptors, it’s about getting off to a good start, creating off of their defence, and going back into that bag of championship poise to take over the game. It would be great to see some of that shine from the road trip carry over into the Scotiabank Arena, especially with the new faces who have gotten involved.