The Toronto Raptors finish off a six-game road trip by taking on the Charlotte Hornets from the Spectrum Center on Wednesday night.
Some may consider this game a bit of a benchmark moment in the Raptors’ season as it’ll be the team’s final contest before the NBA trade deadline on Thursday.
What does that exactly mean? Your guess is as good as mine.
It might mean that Bruce Brown and his handle-bar stache’s short tenure with Toronto has come to an end. It could also mean a farewell for Chris Boucher, the last link to the 2019 championship roster.
Whatever happens (or doesn’t happen), this will be the final game before the highly anticipated drama unfolds and we get clarity on the roster moving forward.
(10-39 | 13th in East | Offensive Rating: 109.9/28th | Defensive Rating: 121.8/30th)
Charlotte, as most people know by now, is not a competitive team at this point in time. They’re a bottom-five offence and defence, and have also lost eight games in a row.
It doesn’t help that the Hornets have been without LaMelo Ball for six games, and will miss him again tonight, as he battles an ankle injury. They also traded away their second-leading scorer Terry Rozier for former Raptor Kyle Lowry not that long ago.
The bright side for them is that without their star point guard and next-best scorer, all the focus has shifted to rookie Brandon Miller and getting him the ball.
With all the attention on Chet Holmgren and Victor Wembenyama for the Rookie of the Year award, Miller’s impressive season might be slipping under the radar.
The second-overall pick is averaging 16.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.3 assists, while shooting 38.8 per cent from deep on six attempts a game. Over the last 10 games, those numbers have gone up practically across the board.
Miller has scored over 20 points in eight of Charlotte’s last 10 games and since Ball has sat out, the 21-year-old is averaging 26.3 points a night. In their last two games, Miller has dropped 33 and 35 points respectively.
Toronto no longer has wing defenders the likes of Anunoby or Siakam, but whatever they do have, be it Scottie Barnes, Bruce Brown, or RJ Barrett, they’ll need all of them to stifle Miller’s recent hot streak.
(17-32 | 12th in East | Offensive Rating: 114.3/19th | Defensive Rating: 118.2/22nd)
If you were looking for a measuring stick game to gauge where the young, development-driven Raptors stand amongst their contemporaries, this is about as good as it gets.
Toronto is taking on a squad that sits one spot below them in the standings and at this point is in a similar boat from a contention perspective. Both teams seemingly have their guy and are trying to identify who builds alongside them.
One of those guys who is presumably going to be growing alongside the Raptors’ franchise player (Scottie Barnes…duh), is Gradey Dick. Coming off a career-high 22 points on over 50 per cent shooting from the field and distance against the Pelicans, it’ll be interesting to see if the rookie can replicate his hot-shooting night.
With players in front of the 20-year-old on the depth chart possibly on the move, like Brown or Gary Trent Jr., they could potentially sit out and make room for Dick to play even more than the 30 minutes he logged on Monday.
Another way in which these two squads are similar is the way they both showcase mediocre defences right now. The Raptors and Hornets over the last 10 games rank 28th and 30th in opponent points per game, allowing over 120 points during that span.
Toronto, specifically, has taken that up a notch and given up over 130 points to their last three opponents. So, this one really feels like it’ll be a battle of which defence shows up first, if at all.
Meanwhile, RJ Barrett, who sat out Toronto’s last game against New Orleans, to help manage knee swelling, ought to make an impact in his return tonight.
His signature downhill play should lead to good things against a Hornets team that over the last 10 games has ranked 28th in the NBA for opponent points in the paint, allowing just under 60 points on the inside, during that span.
Tip-Off: 7:00 pm EST | TV: SN | Radio: TSN RADIO 1050
PG: Immanuel Quickley, Dennis Schroder
SG: Gary Trent Jr (questionable – back), Gradey Dick
SF: RJ Barrett, Bruce Brown, Jalen McDaniels, Jordan Nwora, Garrett Temple
PF: Scottie Barnes, Chris Boucher, Otto Porter Jr.
C: Jakob Poeltl, Thaddeus Young
Inactives: Jontay Porter (back), Markquis Nowell (two-way), Javon Freeman-Liberty (two-way), Kira Lewis Jr. (on assignment)
PG: Ish Smith, Nick Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina (questionable – hip)
SG: Cody Martin (questionable – knee), Bryce McGowens
SF: Brandon Miller, Gordon Hayward (questionable – calf) Leaky Black
PF: Miles Bridges, PJ Washington, JT Thor
C: Nick Richards, Nathan Mensa
Inactives: LaMelo Ball (ankle), Kyle Lowry (not with team), Mark Williams (back), Amari Bailey (two-way)
Toronto is favoured in this matchup, -7.5 on the spread and -295 for moneyline odds, despite being the road team, and that really does speak to Charlotte’s current situation, especially with their current slew of injuries.
The over/under is set at 226, and for what it’s worth, the Raptors and Hornets split that line in their two previous matchups. On Dec. 8 they combined for 235 points and on Dec. 18 they combined for 213. If we’re looking at recent games, both Toronto and Charlotte have hit the over in three of their last five contests.