The Raptors play some rare weekday afternoon ball on Monday, visiting the Charlotte Bobcats for a 2 p.m. tip-off on Sportsnet.
We’re getting the day game on account of a holiday in the United States, Martin Luther King Day. While we don’t take the day off here in Canada (“Family Day” in a month, though, obviously way more important and culturally relevant…), I hope everyone takes a few minutes to reflect on the significance of the man, the history and the day.
Now, here’s the problem with some afternoon ball: the Raptors are snakebitten against the Bobcats.
For whatever reason, Charlotte just has the team’s number. And I know, historical records don’t mean much of anything considering roster and staff turnover, but as a fan, it’s annoying to consistently lose to the same usually-terrible team. The Raptors have dropped three straight to the Bobcats and 11 of the last 14 (though the all-time match-up is deadlocked at 17-17).
This season, the Raptors lost 92-90 and 104-102, both irritating and painful losses. A quick review is in order.
Nov. 6, 92-90 on the road – “Avoidable Loss in Charlotte, Weird Decisions Made Again”
After electing not to take advantage of a potential 2-for-1, it came down to the final play where the Raptors were down two and elected not to foul with a 2-second shot-clock differential, which is obviously a terrible decision since it takes about 2 seconds for the ball to be in the air, hit the rim, bounce around and the rebound to be collected. Dwane Casey was given a reprieve for his poor decision when the ball went out of bounds with about five seconds left, only for him to repeat his poor decision.
Ahh, yes, the “no foul” game. Frustrating stuff, and it also included Gerald Henderson absolutely killing DeMar DeRozan off of simple screen actions for the entire first quarter.
Dec. 18 – 104-102 at home – “Five Stages of Geief”
The Raptors were up 10 going into the half. How did they squander the lead?
AHA! It was that misguided coach! It was Dwane Casey! Lame ducks aren’t supposed to quack! Why doesn’t he have a playbook? Why did he let the Raptors descend into pure isolation plays for the entirety of the second half?! Why did he bench Jonas?!?! Why did he play so much of the two-PG lineups!?!?! FYI, Lowry/Vasquez is not Dragic/Bledsoe! Why did he give so many minutes to John effing Salmons!?!?!
The Kemba Walker overtime buzzer-beater. This, of course, was one of the games I had access for, so naturally they lost a heartbreaker (this has happened every single time I’ve gone to a game and the game before every practice I’ve gone to…it’s like my “curse” all over again, if you know your RR history).
But today can be different.
Or at least, it better be. Following a month of really strong play, the Raptors laid a pair of giant eggs this week against Boston and the Lakers with a good Minnesota win sandwiched in between (and, to be fair, the week started with a blowout of Milwaukee, like that counts). This is hardly an easy week – at Charlotte, home against Dallas, at Philadelphia and home against the Clippers – and there’s a five-game west coast road-trip on the horizon. This team may be different than previous iterations, but the pessimistic part of me looks at the next three weeks of the schedule and can’t help but picture the worst.
Of course, I’ll put the rose-colored Horace Grant goggles back on if they win Monday, because that’s the kind of season it’s been and that’s how gullible I’ve become in my desire to cheer for a winner*.
*Does not apply to four-game winning streaks for the Leafs, who are, in reality, much closer to the team they were in December and January than the one they were in October.
Looking back at the previous two Charlotte games, a few things stand out:
*Josh McRoberts has a bigger impact than most people think. I guess this doesn’t pertain just to these two games because he’s been good all year, but he averaged 13-6.5-6 in those two outings and really helped keep the offense flowing with his intelligent passing. Charlie work, too.
*Al Jefferson had 24-and-11 in the second match-up (he missed the first) but Jonas Valanciunas acquitted himself fairly well in the match-up. Chuck Hayes could prove helpful for spot duty but it’d be good to see how Valanciunas looks in an extended rematch.
*DeMar DeRozan got his with a combined 44 points but shot 16-of-42 to get there. The key to his success against this squad, who can throw multiple capable defenders at him (Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, in particular), is to be aggressive and attack the rim. DeRozan’s had a rough couple of games when it comes to shot selection but hopefully Sunday’s disaster sunk in.
*Despite the Bobcats ranking second in defensive rebound rate, the Raptors can make hey on the offensive glass. The Raptors also shoot a slightly above-average amount of threes and the Bobcats concede a slightly above-average number of long-range attempts, and threes result in offensive rebounds more often than mid-range shots, so offensive rebounding becomes even more tactically important in a game like this.
Now, there is one important factor about Monday’s game that I haven’t mentioned, and it’s burying the lede in a pretty major way.
Kemba Walker is out with a sprained left ankle.
It will be the first game Walker has missed as a pro, actually, and as a basketball fan, that sucks. As a Raptors fan, you take it. Jeff Taylor and Brendan Haywood are also out, but Walker is obviously the key, averaging 18.7 points and five assists as the team’s unquestioned leader.
Don’t think this makes the point guard match-up a breeze though, as Ramon Sessions can cause problems. Sessions ranks first in the NBA in points off of drives on a per-minute basis and is one of the league’s most aggressive attackers. That will put Kyle Lowry on his heels and really put a burden on help defenders in the paint. Sessions is an overall downgrade from Walker but the real issue comes at the back-up spot, where Jannero Pargo or Ben Gordon will now have to be trusted to run the offense for 15 minutes.
Three other important notes worth making about the Bobcats:
*Whenever Anthony Tolliver does anything, it is mandatory that we make Pop The Tolli jokes. I’m sweating, woo!
*Charlotte ranks seventh in defensive rating, just behind the Raptors, and their coach, Steve Clifford, deserves plenty of credit. It really looks like the Bobcats found their coach for the foreseeable future in Clifford.
*Chris Douglas-Roberts is the best.
Vegas says: Raptors -5.5 or -5 depending on the book, with action basically split down the middle. 54 percent have hit the over at 187.
Hollinger says: Raptors -6.5
4 Non Blondes say: Hey, what’s going on?
Blake says: Even with the travel back-to-back and early tip, it’s too hard to pick against the Raptors when Walker won’t be out there. Yes, the defense is still good, Sessions can score and they’re well-coached, but it’s tough to write off the Raptors run of good play just yet. Raptors by nine (and I’d go under).