With another hard-fought, yet ultimately fake comeback in the books, it’s time for the Toronto Raptors to attempt to regain some footing in the standings versus the Charlotte Hornets. Toronto has fallen to .500 on the season, currently sitting in 9th in the Eastern Conference, two spots behind the Hornets. If the Raptors are going to make a serious push to avoid the play-in tournament, it’s pivotal to win games against the other fringe playoff teams.
The Hornets have been playing well lately, winning seven of their last ten contests despite being thoroughly dismantled by the Chicago Bulls last game. Much like Fred VanVleet, LaMelo Ball is making an All-Star push as a guard in the East, so tonight’s matchup could been seen as a head-on test as to who is more deserving of the nod. Of course, a poor shooting night can happen to anyone at any time, so clearly this one-on-one matchup isn’t entirely indicative of a full season’s performance. Still, it will surely be fun to see these two square up, fighting for spots on the All-Star roster leading up to the game in a few weeks.
Here are the details for tonight’s game:
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 7:00PM EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam
Charlotte – Terry Rozier, LaMelo Ball, Miles Bridges, Cody Martin, Mason Plumlee
Toronto — Khem Birch (nose – out), Goran Dragic (personal – out), David Johnson (health and safety protocols – out)
Charlotte – Gordon Hayward (foot – questionable), Jalen McDaniels (ankle – out)
As a rookie, it should come as no surprise that Scottie Barnes has been going through his fair share of ups and downs. After averaging just 10.4 points per game in the new year, Scottie dropped a career-high 27 in a dominant performance against the Wizards, only to crash back down to earth the following game, wherein he scored 9 points on an ugly 4-13 from the field against the Blazers.
Scottie is at his best when he’s aggressive, gets to his desired spot on the inside and creates looks for himself or others. Tonight, some early post-ups would be a welcome sight, as those tend to get Barnes going. Once he sees his shot fall through the rim, he often subsequently becomes visibly more confident creating his own offense.
What About the Bench?
Aside from Chris Boucher, Precious Achiuwa and Justin Champagnie (who Nick Nurse has been known to trust on the occasion), the Raptors’ bench has become a befuddled mess. Dalano Banton played well in his stint with the Raptors 905, and in limited minutes last game. I expect he’ll make his way back into the rotation at some point — if not this season, then next. However, I’m not so sure we can expect the same from Svi Mykhailiuk, who has fallen out of Nurse’s favour, and with good reason; in the limited opportunities granted to him since the turn of the new year, Svi has barely contributed anything of value to the team.
Malachi Flynn has also largely been disappointing. He’s played fewer than 15 minutes in 2022, and hasn’t played in the team’s last five games. Nurse has clearly lost faith in him for the time being, and I would expect to see his name coming up in trade rumours as the February 10th deadline approaches. Malachi is still only 23 years old, and I don’t doubt Masai’s ability to sell another team on his untapped potential. As well, Chris Boucher has been playing exceptionally well as of late, so it may be prime time to sell high. It would help the team tremendously to secure some shot creation off the bench.
Lack of Consistency
The Raptors seem to experience bouts of collective apathy. The team will often go through strings of stagnant offensive possessions, coupled with lacklustre defense. Unsurprisingly, Toronto often attempts to shoot itself out of these ruts, which can worsen the problem on bad shooting nights. Fred will hit the occasional heroic three, sure, but it’s no secret that the Raptors could use some more team basketball.
The team is at its best when the ball swings around the floor, and everyone gets involved. Toronto’s starting lineup has plenty of talent in the playmaking department; when struggling, the Raptors should rely more on finding cutters and moving generally off-ball. Hard-fought, successful possessions on the defensive end should help spark some offense as well.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Raptors start off slowly tonight, after expending so much energy attempting (and nearly completing) a major comeback last game. Still, I always hope to see an inspired team with the resilience to overcome any fatigue. Let’s see if the Raptors can give it their all for 48 minutes tonight.