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Will this be the worst game of the season? That’s a pretty high honor this year, as despite being host to some very exciting games the Raptors have also been a part of some real stinkers. With the Charlotte Bobcats coming to town, we could be looking at a Pantheon-level terrible game.

The Bobcats, of course, are in first place in the Tank Standings, securely in 30th with a 14-50 record. They’ve been a hilarious 7-45 since a 7-5 start. They’re also the worst defensive team and the second worst offensive team in the league. They have no redeeming qualities except for the fact that they hammered Boston on Tuesday. Congrats.

The last two times these teams met, here’s what we were treated to:

Nov 21, Charlotte wins 98-97 – Lowry and Jonas have big games, Bargs has perhaps his best performance of the season…and the bench completely lays an egg. The Bobcats have seven players score in double figures and lock up the win with an MKG no-foul on Bargnani at the buzzer, the now infamous play that the NBA apologized for after. Yuck.

Jan 11, Toronto wins 99-78 – Nobody has a big game but the bench plays great in garbage time to help the cause. Charlotte again has five players in double figures but shoot just 37%. This one was ugly right from tip off.

So what are we in for today? Before we break it down, I was lucky enough to join Queen City Hoops for a pre-game 3-on-3. You can find the whole thing here, but here are my answers along with Greg Pietras’ responses.

1- STATS: For the most part, neither of these teams sticks out in a positive way statistically. Toronto (12.7) and Charlotte (13.0) are both top-5 in the league in Turnover Ratio. Is the team that causes more turnovers the favorite tonight?

Greg: It’s definitely possible, but I’m not sure how much it would benefit Charlotte. The Bobcats aren’t particularly good at forcing turnovers, ranking 21st in TOV%. When they do force mistakes, they aren’t always great at taking advantage of it. Only 15.2 percent of Charlotte’s offense comes off of turnovers, which is 28th in the league.
It could come down to free throw shooting — both teams are skilled at drawing fouls, ranking in the top ten in FT/FGA. If that does decide the game, Charlotte likely holds the edge. Toronto fouls like crazy, rating dead last (by a pretty wide margin) in opponent free throw attempts.

Blake Murphy, Raptors Republic: If that’s the case, the Bobcats probably win. The Raptors rank highly but have dropped to middle of the pack since dealing Jose Calderon, including 17 turnovers against Boston on Wednesday night. Jonas Valanciunas’ turnovers are an acceptable part of learning in the post, but Kyle Lowry and Rudy Gay haven’t taken great care of the ball lately either. The biggest change has been DeMar DeRozan, who had a nice tidy turnover rate before but has turned the ball over on one extra possession a game since Gay came in. I don’t fault the players individually, really, as Dwane Casey’s sets lack movement and proper spacing, forcing a lot of one-on-one play and late bail-out passes.

2- RUDY GAY: Toronto is better on the offensive and defensive end of the floor when Rudy Gay is in the game. Gay ON floor: Offensive Rating- 103.4; Defensive Rating- 98.6. Gay OFF floor: Offensive Rating- 96.2; Defensive Rating- 109.5. There’s been some criticism dealt Toronto’s way about doing this trade. Assess.

Greg: Gay’s impact on the court is almost secondary due to his salary. His cap hit makes it very difficult for Toronto to make any big moves in the next two seasons — they’re already essentially locked in for next year’s team, with over $67 million already committed. They’ve gone 9-10 since the trade. How much better can they reasonably expect to get?

Blake: Yeah, people don’t love it, myself included. But my issue was more with the loss of roster flexibility and overpaying a good-not-great player more than anything. Has Gay really improved the team? While the on/off court numbers support it, the Raptors are actually the pretty similar before and after the deal as a whole (-2.1 points per 100 possessions before, -0.5 since per NBA.com Stats tool), and that improvement is owed at least in part to a friendlier schedule in that stretch. The biggest issue is Gay’s shot selection, as he’s shooting a terrible percentage (37.9%) and can’t hit a three to save his life (23.5%) but continuing to fire from everywhere. Again, some of it is the lack of offensive creativity from the bench, but a good deal of the blame comes down to his decision making, too. Maybe the Raptors are a bit better with Gay in the fold, but he’s got a long way to go to “changing the franchise” as was hoped.

3- PICK IT: Don’t say this often (or ever), but the Bobcats are coming off a 26-point beat down of the Celtics on Tuesday night. The Raptors lost by 24 in Boston one night later. Who you got?

Greg: I’ll take the Raptors. Charlotte’s defense looked good for stretches against the Celtics, but they haven’t been able to play with any consistency this season. I’ll buy in when they can string together a few competitive games.

Blake: I’m going to say Toronto, because the tanking is strong with Charlotte. Of course, they’ve got a nice cushion for that bottom spot, but the Raptors don’t really have much incentive to tank (their pick is top-three protected, and a top-three selection is a long shot now) and SHOULD want to bounce back with a win.

So there you have it, I’m taking the Raptors. We’ll bypass the positional breakdown because I really can’t bring myself to think about this game in too much detail.

The Picks
Vegas: Raptors -12
Hollinger: Raptors -6.5
Blake: Raptors by 10. 12 points is just too many to bet with any confidence, but I do think the Raptors can win this one tidily. They’re a much better team that should have more motivation (or rather, less motivation to lose), which could really be enough.

Tip-off is at 7 p.m. on TSN2 so make sure you tune in. You probably don’t want to miss a minute of this one…assuming you are a sado-masochist. Look, there are some great NCAA conference tournaments, Lakers/Pacers, Heat/Bucks and a few solid late-night match-ups. Nobody is going to blame you if you skip out on this one and just wait for the quick react and post-game. If you do watch, please make sure you have a loved one close by to act as an emotional spotter. You may need someone to prevent you from gauging out your eyes.

Have a good weekend everyone!