Gameday: Raptors @ Hornets, Dec. 8

The Toronto Raptors look to get back into the win column with a trip to face the struggling Hornets in Charlotte.

The second night of the back-to-back is never easy in the NBA.  Tired legs can lead to mistakes and opportunities for the opponent to take advantage.  The Charlotte Hornets will have just that opportunity as they host the Raptors.

Toronto of course is coming off of last night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, their first loss against a team below .500.  Portland took their first lead since a 4-2 advantage with just 3.6 seconds left and Lowry’s rainbow 3 rimmed out.

Charlotte entered the season generally expected to be among the worst teams in the NBA.  The loss of Kemba Walker was of course significant, and they were lambasted for the decision to turn Kemba into a sign-and-trade for Terry Rozier.  

It wouldn’t be fair to describe the Hornets season as a surprise, since they are still far from a good team, but they are at least feisty.  While Rozier has been reasonably good, it has been the play of Devonte’ Graham that has made the biggest impact.  From a relative unknown to a potential 2020 All Star, Graham is averaging 19.1 points, 7.8 assists, and 2.9 rebounds, while shooting 38.9 percent from deep. 

Graham’s scoring has been down recently as team’s have focused on slowing him down, but he has adjusted with double digit assists in 5 of his last 7 games.  

With all that said, it’s important to note that the only reason the Hornets are a feel good story this season is because of how low the bar was set.  Yes, they remain in striking distance of a playoff spot (sitting in 9th in the East at present), but they are actually closer to the basement of the conference than making the post-season.  They are more Knicks than they are the Magic to give perspective.

Losing 7 of their last 10 games, the Hornets have struggled in nearly every facet of the game.  Even their wins have largely been unconvincing outside of defeating Dallas by 3 in overtime.  They sit 23rd in offensive rating at 106.7, and are even worse on the other side of the ball sitting 28th in defensive rating.

On top of it all the Hornets also play at the league’s slowest pace and still turn over the ball 15.7 percent of the time (22nd in the NBA).  

This will be the second game of the season between Toronto and Charlotte, with the Raptors cruising to a blowout 132-6 victory on November 18th.  With a 4 point lead at halftime the Raptors put their foot to the gas and took over with a dominant third quarter. 

That game may as well have been from a previous season though as OG Anunoby is the only starter from November 18th expected to be available tomorrow.  Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol all got the start and are expected to wear suits again this evening.

Evening with the 905 strongly represented in their rotation at present, the Raptors continue to roll and have particularly taken advantage of teams below .500.  Tonight is a chance to rebound against one of the leagues worst teams and to get back in the win column for a banged up group.

Prediction: Raptors 117, Hornets 103

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