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Pre-game news & notes: Miles sits, Ibaka returns as Raptors visit Hornets

Can the Raptors figure out this whole playing-in-Charlotte thing?

Do we need much pre-amble here? I did the pre-game what feels like 15 minutes ago (it’s weird how days in which you do almost nothing, by your own standards, can fly by…I left a tea on the counter for four hours and just realized), and we’ve got some spicy updates to get to.

Okay, we’ll rehash: The Charlotte Hornets are bad, but not nearly as bad as their record suggests. They’re the No. 11-ranked defense, employ a dynamic scoring leader in Kemba Walker, and have dangerous players up and down the rotation. They are not a team to take lightly, and are in fact a team who, on paper, looked like a potential Eastern Conference playoff team. That they haven’t been so far is no reason for the visiting Toronto Raptors to take them lightly, and head coach Dwane Casey is trying to warn them as such. You’ve heard this a lot already, because the Raptors are quite good and in a very easy month of the schedule, and reminders are warranted to try to ward off complacency.

If there’s any one thing that should keep the Raptors focused against lesser opponents, it should be the standings. Obviously, in year five of being Actually Good, the Raptors are past the point of sweating their exact record or the random losses that pop up over 82 games. They’re also smart to take the long-view, managing minutes and focusing on the How over the How Many so that their success is more sustainable in April and May. At the same time, there is a clear line of demarcation developing in the Eastern Conference that could make the No. 1-seed more valuable than it’s ever been during this stretch of consecutive playoff appearances – there are now two teams worth avoiding in the second round, and whoever out of Toronto, Cleveland, and Boston can score the top seed dodges the other two until the conference finals (assuming Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t blow all this up with a four-one upset). It’s not worth mortgaging health for the playoffs or anything, but the Raptors will pretty clearly be keeping an eye on the table. Heading into Charlotte, they’re one game back of Cleveland and 3.5 back of Boston, and they’re actually ahead of Cleveland and only one back of Boston when it comes to the loss column.

Wednesday, and a pair of upcoming games against a Philadelphia 76ers team that may be down Joel Embiid, are further opportunities to solidify the record and put earlier lapses in focus further in the rearview.

The game tips off at 7 on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
The injury report flipped dramatically early this morning, with Serge Ibaka being upgraded from questionable to probable, then removed entirely, and C.J. Miles being added. Miles will miss this game due to a dental procedure, which sounds like it sucks. It’s also his second of the year, dating back to the preseason. He joins Lucas Nogueira (calf) on the sidelines. keeping the rotation at a tight 10 and giving a relatively new all-bench unit some more time to mesh – the group that will make up the bench Wednesday is a minus-15.4 together, but that’s a tiny 18-minute sample that came across just two games (Delon Wright’s return on Friday and a game Miles started on Sunday).

Ibaka’s return to the starting lineup will provide more data on a starting lineup that owns a plus-20.9 net rating in 232 minutes together, making it the NBA’s fifth-best fivesome among groups that have played at least 100 minutes (third if you bump that cutoff slightly to 110 and first if you up it to 200). It’s unlikely that keeps up as the schedule grows more difficult, but it’s encouraging nonetheless. Ibaka indicated at shootaround that there’s no real concern with his knees – he’s missed two games for soreness in one and one for soreness in the other – and it largely sounds like a maintenance plan to keep him fresh over the entire season.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Delon Wright
SF: OG Anunoby, Norman Powell
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Malcolm Miller
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl
OUT: C.J. Miles, Lucas Nogueira
TBD: None
905: Bruno Caboclo, Lorenzo Brown, Alfonzo McKinnie

Hornets updates
Charlotte remains without Cody Zeller for the immediate future and Treveon Graham was ruled out at shootaround due to back soreness. Otherwise, things are fairly straight forward with a clear nine-man rotation and some options if they go deeper to use a fourth big in Johnny O’Bryant or an extra wing in Dwayne Bacon. On paper, Dwight Howard is the type of matchup a streaking Jonas Valanciunas should do well with, but the Raptors have consistently struggled with Frank Kaminsky, who posts better numbers against Toronto than almost any other team. Kemba Walker, who didn’t play in the last meeting between the sides, is also obviously a major swing factor.

This is a battle between two quality starting lineups, too. The Hornets haven’t been quite at the level of Toronto’s starting five, but in a larger sample they own a net rating of plus-6.8. They’re also a plus-15.2 with Jeremy Lamb in Nic Batum’s spot and plus-12.6 with Lamb and Bacon (yum) in for Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Basically, as long as Walker, Howard, and Marvin Williams share the floor, Charlotte is dangerous – they’re a plus-4.3 in those 652 minutes and minus-5.5 in all other scenarios.

PG: Kemba Walker, Michael Carter-Williams, Julyan Stone
SG: Nicolas Batum, Malik Monk
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jeremy Lamb, Dwayne Bacon
PF: Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky
C: Dwight Howard, Johnny O’Bryant, Mangok Mathiang
OUT: Cody Zeller, Treveon Graham
TBD: Treveon Graham
Greensboro: Marcus Paige


  • As noted in the open, Joel Embiid may sit each leg of Toronto’s Thursday-Saturday home-and-home with the 76ers due to a sore back. It’s not confirmed, but Woj reports that Embiid is expected to return from a back/rest-related absence by Christmas Day. Philly is struggling a big right now, and no Embiid would swing things further in Toronto’s favor at a cost to the paying fans on Saturday who still haven’t seen The Process live.
  • Raptors 905 don’t play again until Saturday, but with Alfonzo McKinnie having played little of late, Lorenzo Brown chewing up 45-day clock, and no practice time on this mini-trip, they’ve hung back with the G League affiliate to get some work in ahead of Saturday’s home game at Hershey Centre. (They could conceivably still make tip-off at the Air Canada Centre later that afternoon if Gardiner traffic allows.) Malcolm Miller is with the Raptors as an 11th man.
  • Over at The Athletic, I wrote about how the Raptors could get even more out of C.J. Miles. Uhh, obviously not tonight, they can’t. RR readers can get 20 percent off a subscription at this link.
  • Kyle Lowry and his family surprised 26 underprivileged children with a trip to Toys ‘R’ Us on Monday. His work in the community remains admirable and appreciated.

The line
The Raptors opened as 2-point favorites and even with the Miles news, they’ve nudged up to Raptors -2.5. That’s only a 5.5-point swing from the last meeting, which was in Toronto and didn’t include Walker for Charlotte. The Raptors are 16-12 against the spread to 12-16 for Charlotte, if that matters to you at all. The over-under has hung around 211.5.