Pre-game news & notes: Raptors look for 5th in a row

Not much to report here.

Another day, another opponent with a bad record who should command more attention and respect than that record suggests. The Toronto Raptors are visiting the 23-32 Charlotte Hornets for a Sunday matinee, and anyone looking past the Hornets’ record should dig a little deeper.

The personnel is obvious – Kemba Walker is finally an All-Star replacement and deservedly so – and the Hornets have been “unlucky” in terms of point differential versus record. Charlotte’s point differential suggests a team with an expected record of 27-28 before accounting for a top-10 strength of schedule. They’re also right around league average on both ends of the floor with no real glaring weakness. They get to the line more than anyone (Dwight Howard inflated, but still), they commit the fewest turnovers in the league, and nobody is stingier on their own defensive glass. Their offense doesn’t produce very strong shooting – they’re 29th in effective field-goal percentage – but they maximize their offense by not squandering, and often extending, possessions. Walker and Howard are obviously nice individual tests on their own.

The Raptors won both of the last two meetings in high-scoring affairs, 126-113 and 129-111. The stars were great in those games, OG Anunoby had a 20-point game in one, and, with the way he’s been playing, Jonas Valanciunas would seem a good bet to answer the Howard call here. There are worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon.

The game tips off at 1 on TSN 4.5 and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
Barring an unexpected rest day, the Raptors are pretty healthy here. They had Friday off entirely, got a practice in Saturday, and have done an excellent job of keeping their primary players well-rested through a compressed chunk of the schedule. The Raptors just played nine games over 15 days, with Kyle Lowry (29), DeMar DeRozan (31.6), and Serge Ibaka (26.8) all averaging very reasonable minutes. Rest days may be a consideration for after the All-Star break, then, though this wouldn’t be the worst spot since it would hypothetically give a guy four full days off before a pre-break back-to-back.

Ibaka, it’s worth noting, has been better when given extra rest, which would seem to bode well for the playoffs when back-to-backs are eliminated. His true-shooting percentage jumps from 51.9 to 62.8 from back-to-backs to games with one day off, with his plus-minus spiking from 1.8 to 11.2. Somewhat curiously, his shooting numbers dip back down with extra days off, but anecdotally he looks a little fresher in those games (and his block rate spikes, too).

I don’t have the splits handy for lineups, though it stands to reason that the starters’ performance as a group would at least go a little up and down with Ibaka’s play (given his own plus-minus numbers). The starting lineup as a whole remains a plus-12.6 net rating in 577 minutes, one of the league’s best high-usage groups, and while it’s felt of late like they’re a little slow to get going (“stuck in mud,” as Dwane Casey would say), they’re still a plus-11.9 over the last 10 games and plus-8.6 in 2018. They’re managing.

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

Hornets updates
Charlotte enters looking about the same as they did last time, with some tweaks on the periphery. Most notably, they’ve essentially stopped forcing minutes to Malik Monk, with Jeremy Lamb and Treveon Graham soaking up a lot of those backup wing minutes – Monk has appeared in only four of the team’s last 10 games, totaling 15 minutes. He’s struggled as a rookie, to be sure, but once the Hornets fall more officially out of the Eastern Conference playoff race (they’re six games back already), it would stand to reason that Monk will start getting run again. Lamb has been fine. He’s taken decent enough strides despite not shooting the three as well as hoped. Graham is a gamer shooting the lights out on a lower volume of threes.

Inside, the addition of Willy Hernangomez probably doesn’t stand to shake things up much. Dwight Howard isn’t going to stop playing, and Frank Kaminksy and Cody Zeller are great in their backup roles. Zeller is still on a loose minutes restriction following knee surgery, though, so maybe Hernangomez – available here to make his Hornets debut – factors in. (UPDATE: Hernangomez is one of the team’s inactives.)

The Hornets starters, by the way, have a plus-4.6 net rating in 671 minutes, and their second-most used group – Lamb in for Nic Batum with the starters – has also been a big positive (plus-12.3 in 168 minutes). As mentioned off the top, the Hornets are not nearly as bad as their record would suggest.

PG: Kemba Walker, Michael Carter-Williams, Julyan Stone
SG: Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lamb, Malik Monk
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Treveon Graham, Dwayne Bacon
PF: Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky
C: Dwight Howard, Cody Zeller, Willy Hernangomez
OUT: None
TBD: None
Greensboro: Marcus Paige, Mangok Mathiang


The line
The Raptors are only 3.5-point favorites with a 216 over-under.