The Toronto Raptors are looking to keep a seven-game win streak going tonight, as they return from a short road trip to play the Atlanta Hawks. It’s the second matchup between these two teams in eight days, with the Raptors winning a matinee game back on January 20 — Martin Luther King Day — by a five-point margin.
The Raptors have flirted with some losses over their current win streak, but have found a way to finish wins despite opposing comebacks. At this point in the season, they need to keep this up — tied for the second seed with Miami, the Heat have similarly been able to rattle off wins and stay in a battle with Toronto for the highest East seed under competition. Milwaukee has an eight-game lead on everyone else.
A healthy Raptors rotation does take a hit tonight, though, as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is questionable after a right ankle sprain in Sunday’s game against the Spurs. His ability to rebound will be missed against an energetic, young Hawks frontcourt led by John Collins, who was a two-way force in Atlanta’s memorable comeback last Monday.
With that said, let’s look at the other details and the keys to the game.
Where to Watch
TSN, 7:30 PM ET
Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Atlanta — Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins
Toronto — Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (questionable - ankle), Patrick McCaw (questionable - nose), Dewan Hernandez (out - ankle)
Atlanta — DeAndre’ Bembry (out - hand), Alex Len (out - hip), Bruno Fernando (questionable - calf), Chandler Parsons (out - concussion), Jabari Parker (out - shoulder)
Box Out, Baby
It’s not sexy, but an important part of playing this Atlanta Hawks team is ensuring the aforementioned Collins off the glass and keep them to one-and-done possessions. Without the help of Hollis-Jefferson inside, there’ll be more pressure on Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, and the Raptors guards to finish possessions. This includes in transition, where the Hawks are comfortable at pouring it in.
It also includes taking opportunities on the other end of the floor. While the Hawks are 14th in offensive rebound percentage (27.0%), they’re dead last in the league in defensive rebound percentage (70.5%), tied with the Hornets. This means guys like OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam could have a field day following shots and getting some easy buckets. The battle of the glass on both ends will be one to watch.
Keep the Energy Up
Everyone who goes against the Hawks knows they can score against this team, and knows that Atlanta will do their damned best to keep up. They’ve scored at least 100 points in seven straight games, three of them losses, and reached 152 points in Sunday’s emotional win over Washington — happening just moments after the death of Kobe Bryant.
In the first game between these two teams, the Raptors came out deadly — attacking the confused Hawks in transition, getting easy buckets, and building a lead. Unfortunately, they let that lead slip away thanks to poor execution in the fourth quarter and a hero turn from Trae Young, who ended with 42 points.
It won’t take 48 minutes of effort to beat the Hawks, so let’s set the bar a bit lower. If the Raptors can keep their intensity high enough on both ends of the floor to build a lead and let the bench maintain it, everyone wins on Tuesday night.
Red Hot Siakam
If there’s anything you can count on with Pascal Siakam, it’s that he’ll always be great before you expect it. I thought there would be a significant transition period from his injury to a fully-fledged return to an offensive threat. The bumps in the road, though, have been minimal, and now the Eastern Conference Player of the Week is on another tear — scoring his 11th 30-point performance of the season against the Spurs on Sunday.
Siakam should have no choice but to channel his best Kobe impression and scream “HE CAN’T GUARD ME” at some point tonight. The Hawks have nobody that can give him problems on the offensive end, and his consistent scoring should give Toronto the edge in the game.