After a loss Wednesday night in San Antonio, the Raptors (9-20) look to start a new winning streak tonight in New Orleans against the currently-Hornets-but-soon-to-be-Pelicans (6-22). From a Raptor fan’s standpoint, this game is notable for a couple of reasons: the first being the team’s first look at number 1 pick and soon to be franchise big man Anthony Davis, and the second being the expected return of Kyle Lowry, as a reserve.
Yes, for now, it appears that Jose Calderon has, for now, once again manage to wrest the starting job from a seemingly entrenched point guard through both his stellar play and a stroke of fortune in his favour. From an impartial standpoint given the Raps’ current makeup, the move’s a no-brainer – both Jose and the Raptor starters have been substantially better with him than Lowry, and Lowry offers tough defending and a consistent number 1 scoring option to the bench unit, something they’ve been lacking from game to game (you could argue Anderson, but he’s a bit too inconsistent for my tastes). In any case, what Lowry will provide is a substantial upgrade over John Lucas for the bench unit, with a similar style (basically, Lowry is the Mark to Lucas’ Donnie), and should make the team immediately better as a whole. Welcome back, Kyle Lowry.
Now, on to tonight’s opponent: the New Orleans Hornets. The schedule-makers seem to be rewarding the Raptors after putting them through the five levels of hell earlier this season, as the Hornets are one of very few teams which could be seen as underdogs, even at home, to the shorthanded Raps. One of just 3 teams in the league which have a lower D-rating than the Raptors (29th, the Raps are 27th), but boasting a slightly higher O-rating (19th/21st), the Hornets are strangely both giving up and scoring fewer points than Toronto. This seems to run counter to their places on the O/D rating hierarchy, but can be boiled down to one statistic which wil be key to tonight’s contest: pace.
Currently, the Hornets are last in the NBA in pace factor, using just over 90 possessions per game. The Raptors are down near the bottom as well – currently averaging just over 93 – but this dip down the rankings has been by design during the team’s recent recommitment to defensive basketball that predicated this winning streak. Basically, the Raptors play at their best when both teams are using long possessions, and the Hornets play into that more perfectly than any other team in the NBA.
Now, on to the individual matchups:
Point guards: Lowry/Calderon/mini-Lowry vs Greivis Vasquez/Austin Rivers/Brian Roberts
BIG edge: Raptors
Vasquez is a nice player who has really developed since he first broke into the NBA, but is currently mired in a shooting slump, shooting just 36% over his past three games. Rivers is a streaky shoot-first guard who will likely see the majority of his minutes at SG, and I have no idea who Brian Roberts is. Safe to say that the Raptors should enjoy a substantial advantage at this position tomorrow night.
Wings: DeRozan/Ross/Anderson/Fields/Kleiza/Pietrus vs Roger Mason Jr./Lance Thomas/Al-Farouq Aminu/Dominic McGuire/Xavier Henry/Darius Miller
The Hornet’s wings are a group of offensively-challenged, defensive-minded players who should be able to make things difficult for DeRozan and co. with their size on that end. That said, DeRozan is clearly the best wing in this game, and Dominic McGuire has apparently already lept over 2 players on New Orleans’ SF depth chart since his debut December 16. Not a good sign. To say this team really misses Eric Gordon is an understatement on par with “I guess Mila Kunis looks OK, in the right light.”
Bigs: Davis/Amir/Gray/Acy in the last two minutes of a blowout vs Anthony Davis/Robin Lopez/Ryan Anderson
Now here’s where New Orleans really shines. You could argue that those 3 bigs listed (the only other one on their roster in Jason Smith, who’s out with a torn labrum) double as the Hornets’ 3 best players, and they’ll provide a lot of different looks for the Raptors defensively. The Brow has impressed this season with his prowess on both the defensive (expected) and offensive (not expected) end, and I’m looking forward to seeing him play in the NBA for the first time tomorrow. Ed Davis is no slouch athletically, and should be able to body up Davis defensively in the low post as well as hedge on the sweet-shooting Anderson, and Amir is a stronger and arguably headier player than Robin Lopez, but as long as we’re starting Aaron Gray, I’ll give the advantage to the Hornets.
Vegas line on this game has the Hornets favoured by 3. I smell a big bounce back win here. Raptors by 9. Game is at 8:00 PM EST on TSN.