Here’s a fun fact to kick off our pre-game: after averaging just 85.7 points in their first three games, the Charlotte Bobcats hung 102 on the New York Knicks last night.
Was it a pace thing? No. These teams both play glacially slow so far. The Knicks just happened to lay a bit of an egg defensively. Additionally, the Bobcats used Tyson Chandler’s injury to go to town on the glass, grabbing 16 offensive boards and securing an 18-rebound advantage.
The Toronto Raptors, meanwhile, leveraged a big rebounding advantage early against the Miami Heat before going small and losing that advantage completely, along with the game.
Why set the pre-amble up this way? Well, rebounding could be a key to Wednesday night’s game – the Bobcats are slightly above average on the offensive glass and slightly below average on the defensive glass, so it’s not a major gameplan concern, but it does appear to be the key strength of the Raptors in the early going.
It’s also an area where the Bobcats do well because of effort, not because of any innately dominant rebounders.
With that said, it sure would be nice if Dwane Casey took the training wheels off for Jonas Valanciunas and let him go to work against a big-man corps that is lacking in talent, to say the least. Josh McRoberts and his Charlie Kelly impersonation? Attack. Bismack Biyombo and his up-and-down defense? Attack. Cody Zeller and Jeff Adrien? Attack and attack.
The defensive focus will be on the Bobcats guards, but the offense should run through Valanciunas in the early going. With Al Jefferson sidelined, the Bobcats are painfully thin in the post.
Here’s one more fun fact, this time pertaining to the big-man battle: Valanciunas and Amir Johnson are allowing opponents to score at the rim at near-league high rates in the early going, as are McRoberts and Biyombo. The key difference? The Raptors bigs also shoot a high percentage in close, while the Bobcats rarely give their non-Jefferson bigs touches.
Anyway, that’s the key to this thing for me – pound it inside early and often.
Point Guards: Kyle Lowry and Blake Murphy vs. Kemba Walker and Ramon Sessions
Walker and Sessions are volume scorers, but they’re actually not bad creators for teammates either. Expect the Bobcats’ point men to have the ball in their hand to start just about every set, and expect Walker to continue to try and prove he’s more than ‘just a scorer.’ According to the NBA’s fancy new stats tool, he’s made more passes than anyone in the league except Chris Paul and John Wall so far , but those passes have created fewer than 10 points a game for the Bobcats. That’s probably more to blame on his teammates, but it also shows these passes aren’t leading to easy buckets so far.
Defensively, the ability of both guards to score and the lack of talent in the post means the bigs have to be ready to seal off the guards out of the pick-and-roll and be ready to help on drives (Sessions, for example, has the third most ‘drives’ in the league so far).
It’s a tall task for Lowry, too, but he should be rewarded by a favorable match-up at the offensive end. Walker is merely alright defensively and Sessions is awful (if they run two-point line-ups, the Toronto shooting guard better make hay).
As for the back-up point guard spot, well, it’s been terrible so far, and it might be worth a change, even at this early juncture. Dwight Buycks isn’t sound defensively yet, and the team might not trust a still-recovering Julyan Stone for anything other than garbage time, but ‘garbage time’ is exactly what the game has looked like when D.J. Augustin is in the game. He’s basically playing like a more turnover-prone me with less rebounding effort right now – 4-for-16, 11 points in 52 minutes, two rebounds, seven assists, seven turnovers.
Wings: DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Terrence Ross and Landry Fields vs. Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeff Taylor
I’m not a big fan of Henderson, but Taylor is really solid (especially on defense) and I still think MKG has a lot of potential as a do-everything kind of guy. The nice thing about guarding these wings is that only Taylor is a moderate 3-point threat. Instead of being catch-and-shoot guys, they’re quick and can get to the rim (they’ve combined to take over 40 percent of their shots in the restricted area), which isn’t any <i>easier</i> but it allows for help without too much risk of being burned by shooters.
Offensively, again the mentality should be attack due to the relative lack of depth at the positions. The Bobcats go two-point guards often, as mentioned, and that will allow a shooting guard to go to work (hello, DeRozan post-game). Taylor and MKG are hard workers defensively, so it appears it could be another tough night for Gay, though his recent rebounding efforts certainly help.
One more thing about the Bobcats wings – they tend to over-help, perhaps due to scheme or because they’re quick and can usually recover. Either way, drive-and-kicks and pick-and-rolls with a wing as the screener could be effective.
Bigs: Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough and Aaron Olajuwon vs. Josh McBob, Jeff Adrien, Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo
This was mostly discussed above, so I’ll keep it brief. Attack with Valanciunas, be ready to help on drives, and keep an eye on Zeller running the floor.
Overall Advantage: Raptors
There’s little excuse for not bouncing back with a victory on Wednesday. The Bobcats have some talent, sure, but it’s really hard to look at each match-up and suggest the Raptors are at a deficit overall, even on a back-to-back on the road (the Bobcats are also on a travel back-to-back, by the way).
Bookmakers Say: The Raptors are favored by 2.5, with nearly 60 percent of the action currently coming in on Toronto. 60 percent of bettors are also taking the over on 186, which I’d probably take as well, but not with a great deal of confidence. I’ll take the Raptors giving up the points.
You can catch the game at 7 p.m. on Sportsnet, and/or follow along in the live chat here, as usual.