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Pre-Game

Gameday: Raptors @ Hawks, Nov. 25

The Raptors could use a W.

Well, the Toronto Raptors could use a win. After a thoroughly disappointing performance against the New York Knicks on Wednesday, they responded Friday with an uneven, oft-listless showing against the Indiana Pacers, resulting in a second consecutive loss for just the second time this season. Toronto’s yet to lose three in a row, and while the Atlanta Hawks look like a good opponent to right the ship against, it’s the third road game in four nights and the Hawks bring the type of effort that makes upsets a nightly possibility despite a lack of high-end talent on paper.

The game can be looked at through a strategic lens, sure, but it’s really about the focus and energy level of the Raptors. When they’re executing the new offense and trying on defense, they can look unbeatable for long stretches. It’s when they abandon those principles and rely on their talent alone, losing the plot from a team perspective, that things have gone awry. There aren’t Xs and Os explanations for persistent 12-0 runs, let alone a 28-0 run. They should be coming in ticked off.

If they play to their identity, they should be able to make hay on the offensive glass, force plenty of turnovers to kick-start the transition game in the second unit, and keep Atlanta off the line without conceding quality looks to do so. Atlanta is not a particularly stout defense, though they can frustrate opponents into miscues with their activity level. Again, though, the Raptors are better than the Hawks by a significant enough margin that this is really more about the intangible factors that have sunk them two games in a row.

The game tips off at 7:30 on TSN and Sportsnet 590.

To help set the stage, I reached out to Brad Rowland of Peachtree Hoops, who was kind enough to help us out.

Blake Murphy: Happy thanksgiving, my American friend. How was yours? Given you’re in Atlanta, where it`s exceptional, can I trust that you fall on the correct side of the “mac and cheese is the best side and could really be the meal on its own if done right” conversation?

Brad Rowland: Happy Thanksgiving to you as well sir. I am firmly in the pro-mac and cheese camp and, frankly, can’t see the other side. It’s a culinary treasure and will always be.

Blake Murphy: The Hawks are off to a bad start, and there’s no nicer way to put that. It was entirely expected, though, and it seems to be following their long-term plan. So, tough, but for the best. It’s super early for this, but if their a prospect in the draft you’re most intrigued by, should Atlanta land the No. 1 pick? And 2 Chainz has to be the draft lottery rep, this is not debatable.

Brad Rowland: I’m all in on 2 Chainz as the lottery rep and, while it was always likely that Hawks fans would be looking ahead to the 2018 draft, it’s starting even earlier than most believed. I’m personally keeping tabs on Luka Doncic first and foremost and I think he’s a safe bet as this year’s top player. He may not have the unadulterated upside of Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton or a few others but Doncic has the look of an All-Star in the league and that is a nice starting point.

Blake Murphy: A rebuild has meant the young players are getting more of an opportunity to play through mistakes and grow this year. I know you’re surely as disappointed as I am that DeAndre’ Bembry has missed significant time, but how have the other youths looked? Taurean Prince and John Collins look like nice pieces.

Brad Rowland: Bembry’s absence hasn’t been fun because I enjoy him quite a bit but he’s finally beginning to get integrated again and that is a good thing. As for the other guys, John Collins has exceeded any rational expectation and he looks like an absolute heist at No. 19. There are some questions about his defense and ultimate position but Collins is a terror on the glass and he’s already uber-efficient as a 20-year-old. I’m rightly excited. Prince has been a little bit uneven this year and seems to be struggling more on defense than I imagined but he is also flashing some offensive upside and that position (as a two-way wing with real size) is so valuable that even a league-average starter there is great.

Blake Murphy: You have to figure the Hawks to be sellers of any vet the market may want come deadline time. The bigger question may be whether they try to move on from Dennis Schroder. I know that’s a polarizing idea. Where do you stand on shopping the 24-year-old and the three years remaining on his deal beyond this season?

Brad Rowland: I’m not pro-Schröder as a long-term building block. He’s probably the best player on the team now but, despite his age, I don’t see a ton more upside to explore. Personally, I’ve been more disappointed by his defense (especially effort-wise) than anything and he has the feel to me as a player who will always put up bigger raw numbers than his actual impact suggests. I certainly wouldn’t trade him just to trade him but the new GM (Travis Schlenk) inherited Schröder and it wouldn’t be a stunner if he looked to move on.

Blake Murphy: It’s been a hell of a year for Atlanta hip-hop (evergreen comment, I realize). Can you even pick a favorite this year out of 21 Savage/Metro/Offset, 2 Chainz, Gucci, Young Thug, Lil Yachty, and the Future/Thugger collab?

Brad Rowland: This is an impossible question and I think you know this (#ATLShawty) but I’ll roll with Gucci if forced to choose. Candidly, I’m old and washed so there are better people to ask but this is one man’s opinion, after all.

Raptors updates
What, exactly, the Raptors plan to do about their poor first and third quarters is unclear. On Friday, Dwane Casey opted to start a different group out of the half, giving Pascal Siakam the nod over Jonas Valanciunas. It didn’t really work and was matchup-specific to a small-ball Pacers outfit, but it’s telling that the change he attempted to make was at the center position. Valanciunas has had nice stretches this year peppered around some bad ones, and more than anything about Valanciunas the individual, his fit with Serge Ibaka on defense continues to look worrisome. At the same time, it’s been a fairly consistent energy issue, not really anything tactical, and so any change there is hardly a guarantee to fix the issue. Valanciunas looked and sounded absolutely dejected in his post-game scrum.

Elsewhere in the rotation, it’s unclear if C.J. Miles will be back with the team. He left Thursday to be with his wife for the birth of their first child, and as of this writing, there are no game notes to check his status in. The guess here is that he’s still at home, because that kind of thing is just way more important than a back-to-back in November (or any game ever). If he’s made the trip for a last-minute appearance, awesome. If not, it’s on Norman Powell and OG Anunoby to pick up the wing slack and on Casey to find some lineup combinations that can score without the spacing he offers.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, (C.J. Miles), Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: Delon Wright
TBD: C.J. Miles
905: Malcolm Miller, Bruno Caboclo

Hawks updates
Atlanta likewise enters on the second night of a back-to-back, having defeated the Knicks at home on Friday. The Hawks are running 10-deep right now, so nobody was particularly overused in that one, with Dennis Schroder topping out at 35 minutes. They are coming in with some injuries, though, as Isaiah Taylor is out and Luke Babbitt and Mike Muscala both missed Friday’s game (they have back and ankle issues, respectively). If Babbitt can go, he may factor back into the starting lineup, though John Collins has looked fine in his place. Muscala might slot back in as the backup center if he goes, a spot Ersan Ilyasova has been playing in some as a stretch-five.

Josh Magette is up with the Hawks for additional guard depth due to the Taylor injury and Malcolm Delaney’s ineffectiveness, DeAndre’ Bembry is rounding into form after a few weeks out of the lineup, and you can bet Marco Belinelli is going to drop 30 off the bench here and take home the Gerald Henderson award for the night. The Hawks are pretty fun despite their record.

PG: Dennis Schroder, Josh Magette, Malcolm Delaney
SG: Kent Bazemore, Marco Belinelli, Tyler Dorsey
SF: Taurean Prince, DeAndre’ Bembry
PF: (Luke Babbitt), John Collins, Tyler Cavanaugh, Ersan Ilyasova
C: Dewayne Dedmon, (Mike Muscala), Miles Plumlee
OUT: Isaiah Taylor
TBD: Mike Muscala, Luke Babbitt
Erie: Nicolas Brussino

The line
The Raptors are 7-point favorites with a 210.5 over-under.

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