Back on the right track after a decisive victory over the hapless Sixers, the 13-22 Raptors host the 9-25 Bobcats in the fifth game of a six-game homestand. It’s got win and “trap” written all over it at the same time.
Last time these two teams met was in the midst of the Raptors’ streak of losing in an unbearable manner. If you’ll recall, Andrea Bargnani was very clearly fouled on the game’s final shot and the league issued a correction after the fact. REVENGE!
Before we break it down, Brett Hainline of Queen City Hoops was kind enough to answer some questions for me in advance of tonight’s game.
Charlotte is 9-25 but are just 2-20 in their past 22 thanks to an 18-game losing streak. What’s changed to cause the drop-off?
More road games, tougher schedule, and regression to the mean. The Bobcats’ roster this year is better than last year’s, but only a bit. MKG is a talented player, and the Bobcats added legitimate players in Sessions, Gordon, and Haywood (compared to the other Bobcats’ bigs, Haywood is a step up). But matching last season’s win total in 12 games was a fluke, aided by winning several close games – as those tossup games have started to even out, the Bobcats are just moving in the standings closer to where their talent dictates.
The Bobcats have the worst D-rating in the league. MKG looks to have potential, Biyombo is at the least a quality shot-blocker, and Jeff Taylor is learning under trial-by-fire. Do you see defensive upside for this squad or do they just lack the individuals and/or system to get it done at that end?
It’s a combination of things – the Bobcats bigs are bad defensively. Tyrus Thomas, Bismack Biyombo and Hakim Warrick all have never seen a shot fake they didn’t bite on. Byron Mullens is indifferent (at best) on that end, and Haywood has never been fleet of foot, so at 30+, he’s not recovering to clean up teammate’s mistakes. And the Bobcats’ best lineups offensively put them at a hindrance defensively, as MKG and Jeff Taylor have both seen minutes at the 4 spot, to get trios out of the Walker, Henderson, Gordon, and Sessions grouping on the court together. MKG and Taylor are not 4s, can’t defend 4s consistently, and the Bobcats give up points trying to help them do so.
What specific element can the Raptors try to exploit to send Charlotte home with a loss?
And that feeds nicely into what the Raptors can exploit: The three point line. The Bobcats allow the league’s second highest percentage of makes from deep, while also allowing their opponents to take the most 3s in the league. That’s not a recipe for success. And while shooting from long range isn’t a strength for the Raptors, most NBA players can make a decent percentage when open – and the Bobcats defensive strategies and personnel frequently lead to frantic rotations then open shots from long range. Stay patient on offense and hold on to the ball, and the Bobcats will be hurt in two places: No easy points in transition (which the offense relies on) and easy shots for the Raptors that are worth three points. Sounds good, right?
Tale of the Tape
O-Rating: Toronto 105.0 (15th), Charlotte 102.7 (22nd)
D-Rating: Toronto 107.4 (24th), Charlotte 110.9 (30th)
Pace: Charlotte 92.3 (9th), Toronto 90.3 (24th)
Strength: Toronto Ball Control (2nd), Charlotte Fast Break (3rd)
Weakness: Toronto Fouling (30th), Charlotte D-Rebounding (29th)
Point Guards – Kyle Lowry and Jose Calderon v. Kemba Walker and Ramon Sessions
Now that Lowry and Calderon are sharing minutes effectively without complaint, they are super best friends forever and all is swell. While this lasts, the Raptors should hold a guard advantage against a lot of teams, including the offense-only Bobcat pairing. Sessions and Walker are similarly skilled players and adept at getting to the rim and the charity stripe. However, the Bobcat bigs don’t score well around the basket, meaning the Raptor bigs can be prepared to help on the point guards without much risk. Calderon and Lowry should be able to shred the duo and, even if they give up 30 points between the two of them, come out ahead in creating offense for their team.
Wings – DeMar DeRozan, Landry Fields, Alan Anderson and Terrence Ross v. Jeffrey Taylor, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Gerald Henderson and Ben Gordon
When these two teams last met, Dominic McGuire played 25 minutes. He’s since been waived, signed, waived and signed. So, last game might not give the best picture of how the wings will perform. MKG and Taylor are decent defenders right now with the potential to be very good, but they’re also still exploitable. As Brett mentioned, they’re both also capable of sliding to the four to match-up when the Raptors play Fields or Anderson there, which we’ll likely see a lot of given how thin both team’s big rotations are. Henderson and Gordon are, like the point guards, good offensive players who lack a bit at the defensive end. Both are also capable three-point shooters. It’s worth noting that when Gordon is in the game, there’s the potential for the Raptors to trot out their two-point line-up since Lowry can check Gordon. Anyway, all of this is to say that the Bobcats have some decent but clearly flawed wings, which should sound familiar to you, the Raptor fan. One thing that warrants watching is the play of Ross, who is returning from a slight ankle injury – he thrives in a free-flowing, fast-paced game, but so do the Bobcats. He’ll need to slow things down and continue to hit spot-up threes to swing the edge the Raptors’ way.
Bigs – Ed Davis, Amir Johnson and Aaron Gray v. Ty Thomas, Bismack Biyombo, Hakim Warrick and Brendan Haywood
Davis and Johnson should, by all accounts, go to town on this group. Only Haywood is an effective defender and he’s a poor check on Davis and Johnson at this point in his career. The others post blocks but they all come via gambling and none of them have a dangerous offensive game. If Davis and Johnson can keep the energy of Thomas and Warrick in check and stay away from silly fouls, they should be able to leverage an obvious all-around talent advantage here.
Vegas: Raptors -7.5
Hollinger: Raptors -11.5
Blake: Raptors by 15
It seems crazy to take the spread plus some when it’s that large, but I don’t see many ways this game shakes down in the Bobcats favor. If the Raptors can, at the very least, hit the open threes afforded to them, they should be able to light up the scoreboard. Like the Sixers game, the defensive end will be a matter of playing disciplined fundamental defense against a mediocre team and not giving them free possessions and unearned opportunities. Bigs hit the glass, wings don’t over-help, take the open threes. Victory. REVENGE!
UPDATES: 1) Ross is questionable. 2) I helped out QCH with their pre-game as well, and you can find it here.