If positive play and trending upward counted for anything, then the Raptors would be sitting somewhere around 4-6 or 5-5 as opposed to the 2-8 they currently sit at. Nonetheless, they don’t, and Toronto is going to have to dig themselves out of an early, sizeable hole during a condensed season that is rife with uncertainty.
After losing two extremely winnable games against the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers — one which featured a massive near-comeback and another which featured the ever-so familiar blown big lead — the Raptors are going to have to be able to build on the small successes that they’ve found over the last couple of games.
For starters, Pascal looks to be all the way back to his old self despite missing two game winners in a row. Siakam is once again driving the ball with confidence, and has significantly improved his playmaking skills, as the Raptors have opted to run more action around him instead of letting their star isolate around stagnancy.
Pascal Siakam recorded his first triple-double yesterday— NBA Fantasy (@NBAFantasy) January 12, 2021
22 PTS, 13 REB, 10 AST, 52.6 FPTS pic.twitter.com/pogCApo0ly
With Siakam finding his way and the emergence of Chris Boucher as the star of the bench, the Raptors could be, finally, looking at some credible building blocks that could see them nab a victory over the Hornets.
Where to Watch
TSN 1, 7:30 PM ET
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Normal Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam
Charlotte — Devonte’ Graham, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, P.J. Washington, Bismack Biyombo
Toronto — Patrick McCaw (knee — out)
Charlotte — Cody Zeller (hand — out)
The star of the show in Charlotte is none other than noted donator to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Gordon Hayward. Hayward is posting a tidy 22 points, five rebounds and four assists per game to go along with an always absurd 50/40/93 shooting slash. The Raptors are certainly going to have to account for him and a bevy of other surprisingly effective starters for the Hornets, including the player the Raptors are really going to have to buckle down on: LaMelo Ball. The trouble with Ball — who is having a very good rookie season — is not what he’s doing on the basketball court, but when he’s doing it.
LaMelo Ball comes off the bench to tally his first career triple-double! #AllFly @MELOD1P: 22 PTS, 12 REB, 11 AST pic.twitter.com/IHwfedr9G4— NBA (@NBA) January 10, 2021
Youngest player to ever record a triple double aside, the potential damage that is lurking for the Raptors is that LaMelo comes off the bench. Do Raptors fans remember what it was like to have a good bench? The bench was a place once celebrated by Raptors fans and now it’s an experimental circus for Nick Nurse’s mad-house tinkering.
In the preseason (yes, preseason caveats apply), the Raptors did a fantastic job in containing Ball by unleashing OG Anunoby on him to start and later transitioning to Malachi Flynn. Since then, LaMelo has found his footing in the NBA and is averaging close to 30 minutes per game over his last seven. While this means that LaMelo doesn’t play the entirety of his run with the Hornets bench unit, it does mean that the Raptors are going to have to find some way to stay afloat in those precious minutes where Lowry sits. Could there be some additional extended run for Malachi?
Oh, how the Raptors would love to have a second crack at their fourth quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers. Up by seven with just north of five minutes to go, the Raptors ran into an old, new friend: fourth quarter droughts! Going 0-for-5 with three missed threes, a missed midrange shot and a botched layup, the Raptors ineffectiveness and inability to score down the stretch allowed Portland to take the lead off of the strength of lockdown defense and lights out shooting from Carmelo Anthony.
Carmelo with 13 points on 4-5 shooting from the field, 3-3 shooting from three, 2-2 from the free throw line to go with 3 rebounds and a block in the fourth quarter alone.— Casey Holdahl (@CHold) January 12, 2021
While it seems that there’s a new Raptor killer every night — be it a plucky upstart or a grizzled veteran showing that they can still bare their old, gnarly teeth — Toronto is going to have to, at some point, show that they can put an end to majestic runs by putting the ball in the basket. Against a Hornets team that, on paper, is not as talented as the Raptors are, perhaps the roster can once again, attempt to get back on track.
Renewed Guard Play
It’s important to note that Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry have been anywhere from absolutely incredible this year to still really good, but not great relative to their own standards. VanVleet has been putting on shooting clinics and has looked more and more comfortable commanding the offense into purposeful movement and consistent action, while Lowry, for his part, is still rounding into shape after a truncated offseason. Lowry is currently posting his worst advanced metrics since his 23-year-old season over 11 years ago, and one has to wonder whether Father Time is starting to rear his undefeated head.
Over the last two heart-breaking losses, Lowry and VanVleet are shooting 32 percent and 39 percent from the field and 30 percent and 29 percent from three point range. Those numbers are bad, and there is surely a small amount of concern around Lowry’s play but with Fred’s scorching hot shooting since the start of the season and Lowry’s proven ability to do whatever it takes to push his team to victory, Raptors fans can still find hope in knowing that this team should be better than it is, and that there guards should be able to right the ship against a Hornets team that is light on above-average defenders.