The Toronto Raptors have torn off winning streaks so casually this season that it almost doesn’t register that they could win a fourth in a row on Sunday when the Charlotte Hornets visit. Part of that is the Raptors just not being all that interested in regular season results, focusing instead on the qualitative factors that lead to wins, as well as the amount of rest they can get their stars to keep them fresh for the postseason. Another is that at 44-17, a sixth four-game winning streak (which this would be) seems somewhat rote.
That’s not the case for the Charlotte Hornets, for whom a winning streak of any kinda right now could shift their focus over the last quarter of a season. Charlotte isn’t bad enough to get into a loaded tanking competition, and so if they can make some headway toward an unlikely playoff push, they’ll likely embrace it. Time is running out, and they figure to be hungry in looking to take their first game off the Raptors in this, their fourth meeting. They’re a slightly above-average team on both ends of the floor with some pronounced strengths and some real matchup challenges.
The game tips off at 6 on TSN and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.
The absence of OG Anunoby – his second game down due to a sprained right ankle – shifts some tough defensive responsibility around here. Anunoby saw instances helping on Kemba Walker in previous matchups, and the Hornets have a number of talented wings that can stretch the floor or get physical inside. Dwane Casey was non-committal on a starter in Anunoby’s place, but it sounds as if he might try something different than Norman Powell.
“That position’s probably gonna be fluid,” Casey said. “We’re gonna keep looking at different people. It’s a situation where we’ve gotta get a lot of people ready, and it’s an opportunity to do that.”
I went into more detail on the options here and here. I think the upside with Powell figuring it out is high and that there’s a bit of a necessity to get him going, but getting an extended look at C.J. Miles with the starters – a potentially lethal offensive unit – or a longer look at Malcolm Miller – a player I really like – are both reasonable goals to work toward in Anunoby’s absence. That absence, by the way, is not expected to be a long one based on Casey’s comments.
UPDATE: Miller starts. Fun!
PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: Malcolm Miller, C.J. Miles
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: OG Anunoby
905: Malachi Richardson, Alfonzo McKinnie, Lorenzo Brown
Charlotte has settled on a pretty set 10-man rotation at this point, though Cody Zeller’s questionable status may require a second consecutive game of significant Willy Hernangomez run. Of the regular rotation, it’s not the starters to watch out for so much as Steve Clifford’s first substitution – the Hornets starters own a respectable plus-3.8 net rating in 802 minutes (one of the few fivesomes to play more than the Raptors’ normal starters), but it’s the starters with Jeremy Lamb checking in for Nicolas Batum that have really done damage, to the tune of a plus-12.9 net rating in 169 minutes. A lot of that came during Batum’s early absence – Lamb started 14 games – but Lamb’s often a mid-quarter sub to get that group some time.
Outside of those two groups, the Hornets are light on high-usage looks that have had success. Dwayne Bacon joining Lamb with the starters has been one, but Bacon’s not in the rotation of late, falling behind Treveon Graham. They leaned on an all-bench unit pretty regularly before the trade deadline, but even that isn’t telling because Johnny O’Bryant is gone and Zeller has only played 77 minutes with them (plus-6.4). Really, all this shows is that the Hornets have had to deal with a lot of disruption despite employing the league’s second most commonly used starting lineup. It’s been another tough year for a team that’s better than they’ve performed.
UPDATE: Dwayne Bacon is out with an illness and Zeller is available if needed.
PG: Kemba Walker, Michael Carter-Williams, Julyan Stone
SG: Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lamb, Malik Monk
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Treveon Graham
PF: Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky
C: Dwight Howard, Cody Zeller, Willy Hernangomez
OUT: Dwayne Bacon
TBD: Cody Zeller
Greensboro: Marcus Paige, Mangok Mathiang
- Raptors 905 won yesterday and are now off until Saturday, so expect some up-and-down throughout the time both sides are at home the next few days. Malcolm Miller is with the Raptors while Alfonzo McKinnie and Malachi Richardson are with the 905. Lorenzo Brown is still sidelined for Raptors 905 due to an ankle sprain. It’s possible that one of McKinnie, Brown, or Richardson dresses in the 13th-man role here, though Brown would seem least likely as his absence pushes three weeks.
- Over at The Athletic, I wrote about the Raptors’ improved defense and what’s gone into making them a top-three unit this year.
- A very good piece from Eric Koreen on Fred VanVleet betting on himself over at The Athletic.
- Still at The Athletic, Eric and I went over some rotation tweaks and philosophical questions the Raptors need to explore over the last 20 games or so.
- The continued efforts of DeMar DeRozan to speak up about mental health mean a lot to me. All the respect in the world to DeRozan for this.
— ESPN (@espn) March 4, 2018
The Raptors have held as 8.5-point favorites most of the day, with an over-under at 218.