Who are we to look down on the fortunes of another franchise? After all, we haven’t made the playoffs in some time, we’re 2-6 over an 8-game stretch I called our “best” run of the season (and nobody argued), and all of our hopes are pinned to a teenager on the other side of the world.

But still…

At least we’re not the Bobcats, right?

Is this even considered an NBA game? The league’s worst and 6th worst teams in terms of record and Hollinger’s Power Ranking go toe-to-toe in Toronto, in what will surely be an entertaining affair. And by entertaining, I’m not necessarily referring to entertainment derived from captivating and well-executed basketball.

The real draw for this game will be for those who are live at the ACC. Not to pump MLSE’s tires or pad their wallets, but tonight’s game a) is a cheap ticket, b) is DeMar DeRozan bobblehead night, c) features Naughty by Nature performing at halftime, and d) has most Raptors merchandise marked down to 40% off (and I believe this includes jerseys and hats). Really, it’s a great night to go check out the game, with a free bobblehead, discounts, a musical performance, an almost certain victory, and, of course, a high likelihood of free pizza, as the Bobcats are the league’s 2nd worst defensive outfit.

Friday, February 17, 2012
Bobcats @ Raptors
Record 3-26 9-22
Road/Home 1-15 4-10
Point Diff -14.3 -5.5
Off Rating 30th 27th
Def Rating 29th 18th
Power Rating 30 (85.09) 25 (94.08)
  *PR Predict Raptors -12
Reb Rate 30th 17th
Ast Rate 13th 23rd
TO Rate 22nd 13th
Pace 17th 23rd

The Raptors hold an edge in every relevant category except for assist rate, although on a player-by-player basis the match-up doesn’t look quite as dominant.

Point Guard: Kemba Walker will give Jose Calderon trouble defensively, but Jose is smart enough to force him into low-percentage shots, something Casey’s match-up zone might help with if Kemba gets hot. Jerryd Bayless is also expected to be back tonight, which should ease the minutes burden on Jose while also providing another attacker to make the Bobcats work defensively. D.J. Augustin is a capable back-up with similar game to Kemba’s, so the same thoughts hold.

Shooting Guard: Gerald Henderson is emerging as a strong defender, and has the lateral quicks to keep DeMar from attacking effectively while also making him work to some degree on defense. This will be a good test to see if DeMar’s most recent hot streak (20+ points in 4 of the last 7) is sustainable. That said, Henderson is still questionable to return, so it’s possible DeMar will be matched up with Reggie Williams. This could make the night easier for DeMar while also allowing the Raps to run their two-guard offense, as Williams isn’t as large a threat to attack the basket and exploit a defensive mismatch.

Small Forward: Linas Kleiza’s status is still to be determined after he missed Wednesday’s game. I’m hoping that this doesn’t mean more of Rasual Butler’s Corpse, and instead means more Silky Johnson and small-ball with DeMar at the three. Johnson seems the best fit, as his athleticism will be needed to contain Corey Maggette, a flawed player who is the perfect fit on Charlotte as the ultimate “good stats, bad team” player.

Bigs: I’m lumping power forwards and centers together here because, based on how I see the playing time shaking out, the difference is neglible in this one. Charlotte primarily rolls with best-name-in-the-business Bismack Biyombo and former Colangelo-mancrush Boris Diaw and his gigantic ass. Given the offensive limitations of Biyombo and the athletic limitations of Diaw, plus the relative lack of size of the pair, the Raptors should be able to thrive with plenty of minutes for Amir Johnson and Ed Davis. You can critize this thought, since I’d be playing them both heavy minutes in just about any match-up, but in this case in particular they should be able to exploit Diaw’s relative lack of quickness and Biyombo’s lack of offensive polish. I’d mention Ty Thomas here, but he’s pretty firmly in the doghouse right now and hasn’t played well in some time….so there’s a 70% chance he’ll pop off for 20+10.

Prediction: This is a very winnable game for the Raps, who truthfully are playing their best ball of the season so far. Coach Casey will likely have a gameplan to force the Bobcats to be a shooting team, which is sound strategy, and the game then hinges on the team’s focus. They can’t look ahead to the All-Star break just yet, and I don’t think Casey will lose them after the run of competitive games they’ve been playing. The occasional win, while tough on the lottery odds, is necessary as a confirmation that the hard work is paying off and not for naught. Raptors come out on fire, allow the Bobcats to come back in the third quarter, and then pull away for good in the fourth. Jose and Davis provide double-doubles, Biyombo blocks Amir at least three times, and Boris Diaw attacks a popcorn vendor. Raptors 101, Bobcats 89.