Pre-Game

Gameday: Hornets @ Raptors, Feb. 28

Edit: Serge Ibaka was added to team injury report after initial post.

The Toronto Raptors look to return to winning ways as they welcome the Charlotte Hornets to the Scotiabank Arena, their final home game before jetting off on a grueling five game Western road trip.

Toronto have had three days to regroup following a loss against the Milwaukee Bucks that presented plenty to learn from, both good and bad. During that break Kyle Lowry was also honoured by his alma mater, Villanova, who retired his jersey.

There is minimal room for error for Toronto in the race for the much-desired second seed. The surging Celtics continue to breath down their neck, now only one game behind the Raptors. We are in the thick of the regular season schedule that players often sleepwalk through, so the importance of these games is a pleasant change of pace. Still, Toronto haven’t let their foot off of the gas all season and it doesn’t feel as if Nick Nurse will let them let up anytime soon.

Meanwhile, Charlotte enter the game on the periphery of the Eastern Conference playoff race, sitting six games out of the eighth seed. After defying preseason projections of them being the worst team in the league with some spunk early in the season, the Hornets have sputtered to a 5-15 record in their last 20 games.

To make matters worse, one of the few recent positive developments within the team was quashed on Wednesday afternoon. The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that guard Malik Monk was suspended indefinitely for violating the league’s anti-drug policy. The former 11th overall pick out of Kentucky was finally showing glimpses of reaching his lofty expectations, averaging just under 18 points over the past 12 games. This will significantly hamper a Hornets team which was already paper thin on guard depth.

In contrast, the Raptors may be welcoming another face back into their guard ranks. Norman Powell has been back on the court practicing and is questionable to suit up tonight. Toronto’s medical staff has played it cautiously with Powell given the frequency of hand injuries he has suffered. There will be an injection of joy in the stadium if we get to see Powell resume his career year tonight. Marc Gasol continues to recover from his hamstring issue, the lingering nature of the injury is becoming a bit of a concern considering Toronto’s current rebounding issues.

The matchup to watch tonight will be between diminutive sharpshooters, Fred VanVleet and Devonte’ Graham. The latter has followed a similar path to VanVleet: a quality four year collegiate player who was overlooked at draft time due to their age and stature. Despite neither having a likely shot of earning their place on their respective teams, both guards are now integral parts of their franchise’s present and future. However, in the two match-ups this season Toronto’s length has stifled Graham. He struggles to finish at the rim and the Raptors frenetic perimeter defence has swallowed up his usual passing lanes.

If Toronto continue to display the same defensive chops, it is hard to envision Charlotte pulling off an upset tonight.

GAME INFO

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. PT.
TV: SportsNet Radio: FAN 590.

RAPTORS UPDATES

Norman Powell (hand), Serge Ibaka (knee) are questionable. Patrick McCaw (flu) is probable. Marc Gasol (hamstring) and Dewan Hernandez (ankle) are both out.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Terence Davis
SG: Fred VanVleet, Patrick McCaw, Matt Thomas
SF: OG Anunoby, Oshae Brissett, Paul Watson, Stanley Johnson
PF: Pascal Siakam, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
C: Serge Ibaka, Chris Boucher

HORNETS UPDATES

Malik Monk (suspension) is out indefinitely.

PG: Devonte’ Graham,
SG: Terry Rozier, Cody Martin, Nicolas Batum
SF: Miles Bridges, Caleb Martin
PF: P.J. Washington, Willy Hernangomez, Jalen McDaniels
C: Cody Zeller, Bismack Biyombo

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