Game On: Raptors @ Hornets

Published: December 28, 2012

The Hornets look to tie their longest winning streak of the season (2) as they take on former Hornet Aaron Gray and the Toronto Raptors in their final home game of 2012.

After starting the season 4-19, the Raptors won 5 in a row before losing their most recent contest in San Antonio to the Spurs. This Raptors team is below-average, but it has played much better of late, and the Hornets will have to play very well to come out on top. From a positional standpoint, the advantages for each team are quite clear; the Raptors hold a massive advantage in the back court with Lowry/Calderon/DeRozan, while the Hornets have a pretty strong edge in the front court with Anderson/Davis/Lopez. Though this would be the case regardless, both are aided by injuries to their opponent; the Hornets are without Gordon, while the Raptors will be missing their top two centers, Bargnani and Valanciunas.

Tonight’s game also features two of the biggest “disappointments” of the 2012 lottery thus far who may see minutes against each other in Terrence Ross (selected 8th overall) and Austin Rivers (selected 10th overall). Most importantly, though, the Raptors will be starting former Hornet favorite Aaron Gray as a result of their aforementioned injury concerns. On that note, let’s take a look at tonight’s three keys to the game for New Orleans:

  1. Pound the ball inside. The Raptors are one of five teams allowing more than 43 points in the paint per game this season, which plays right into the Hornets’ hands. While New Orleans is just in the middle of the pack in interior scoring, starting center Robin Lopez is on fire right now, and Anthony Davis has been a threat (when healthy) all season long. According to mySynergySports, the Raptors give up .93 points per possession when opponents post up on them, which is 2nd worst in the league. Ironically enough, replacing Bargnani/Valanciunas with Gray should help Toronto in this regard, but he struggles mightily offensively and is incredibly foul-prone (picked up 4 fouls in 21 minutes on Wednesday night), so he likely won’t be on the court that much.
  2. Get to the free throw line. The Raptors are allowing almost two more free throws per game (27.5) than any other team in the league this season, and have the worst opponents’ free throw rate in the league by far. Raptors opponents average a whopping .353 free throw attempts per field goal attempt, far more than the second-worst Cavaliers at .319 (the league average hovers around .275).  Many of these will no doubt be the end result of accomplishing key #1, but just as important will be players like Vasquez and Rivers getting to the rim and drawing contact. With the 4th best free throw percentage in the NBA (79.4%), the Hornets should do everything they can to take advantage of Toronto’s tendency to foul.
  3. Be active help defenders. The Raptors currently boast the NBA’s highest points per possession (.93) on isolation plays, but are not a good jump-shooting team (5th worst in the NBA in FG% from 15 feet and beyond). The Hornets need to recognize whose jumpers to respect and whose they shouldn’t, and provide strong help defense on Raptors players like DeRozan and Lowry who are effective at creating offense with the ball in their hands. The only Toronto player who absolutely cannot be left alone on the perimeter is Calderon, who is lethal from beyond the arc (44.1%). Apart from him and maybe reserve guard Alan Anderson (37.3% from long range), Monty Williams’ “give up 3s to stop easy 2s” defensive game plan should work pretty well against the Raptors tonight.

Though Toronto comes into this game as winners of five out of their last six, their lack of perimeter shooting combined with the Hornets’ strong front court could give New Orleans a good chance to win if they can play solid team defense. That being said, the Raptors’ iso-heavy guards could give the Hornets’ defensively-challenged back court fits and make this a long night for the home team. At the end of the night, I expect New Orleans to prevail in a close one, but it could go either way. Let us know what you think in the comments below. Will the Hornets put together back-to-back wins for just the second time this season?

For those with Jurassic appetites, check out the Raptors Republic preview and their podcast with Jason.


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