Game On: Raptors at Pelicans

Published: February 23, 2015

Tonight, the shorthanded Pelicans (28-27) welcome a strong and largely healthy Raptors (38-17) team to the Smoothie King Center. Toronto will be looking to bounce back in New Orleans from a blowout loss in Houston on Saturday night, and these Raptors undoubtedly smell blood going up against a weakened Pelicans roster. In particular, All-Star PG Kyle Lowry made just 2 of his 11 shot attempts last game with 7 turnovers and only 4 assists, and will surely look to take advantage of a more favorable match-up than he faced against a tough defender like Patrick Beverley.

Toronto is a slightly above average offensive rebounding team, but below average on the defensive glass. Asik is capable defensively of limiting Valanciunas from both a scoring and rebounding perspective, but if he doesn’t get help from the other remaining healthy Pelicans bigs, that can change in a hurry. Dante Cunningham’s ability to battle with Amir Johnson on the glass could be sneakily important to the outcome of this game. Personally, I am hoping that Monty goes with a starting lineup of Evans-Gordon-Pondexter-Cunningham-Asik and refrains from giving Ajinca the start with Asik in the front court. Should Alexis get into early foul trouble (more on this later), the Pelicans may have a hard time keeping the Raptors off of the offensive glass.

At their current health level, New Orleans will likely struggle to defend the Toronto’s perimeter players. Lowry and DeRozan are two players who like to attack the rim, and this Pelicans team without Holiday has repeatedly shown an inability to stop driving guards and wings. The Raptors’ starting guards average about 15 drives per game between the two of them, but neither are particularly dangerous from 3-point range (DeRozan is a total non-factor in that regard – 26% in his career, 21% this season). As a result, Evans and Gordon would be wise to give both players a little extra space offensively in order to stay in front of them. Keeping Lowry and DeRozan out of the paint is one of the best ways to limit Toronto’s offensive success.

The Raptors’ bench is also a concern, as Vasquez, Ross, and Patterson are three players to whom the Pelicans have to pay attention (Lou Williams is day-to-day for the Raptors and may not play). While Ross hasn’t been a great NBA player so far, he is a career 37% 3-point shooter and can help Toronto space the floor. As New Orleans fans know, Vasquez is a good offensive point guard and is very tall for his position; his defensive shortcomings are far less magnified coming off of the bench. Patterson is a strong rebounder and has been an excellent stretch 4 for Toronto this year, shooting 40% from long range on 3.5 attempts per game; he’ll be a tough match-up for any current reserve Pelicans big man.

UPDATE (5:45 PM): The Raptors announce that Lou Williams WILL play tonight, but Patrick Patterson WILL NOT play. With the Pelicans’ injuries, Patterson would have been a tough cover off the bench tonight. Him not being active should certainly help New Orleans’ chances.

The Raptors are also one of the league’s best at protecting the basketball, while the Pelicans are one of the league’s worst at forcing turnovers. While Toronto as a team doesn’t force a ton of turnovers, Lowry is a pest defensively, so New Orleans needs to take good care of the ball at the point guard position to ensure that they don’t severely handicap themselves in the turnover battle. Another way the Raptors beat teams is by getting to the free throw line, as their 21 fouls drawn per game and 25 free throw attempts per game both rank among the top teams in the NBA. These stats go hand-in-hand with both keeping Toronto players out of the paint along with keeping Ajinca as a member of the second unit.

In its simplest form, the two biggest keys to beating the Raptors are 1) preventing second chances and 2) keeping their guards out of the paint. If Toronto gets hot from 3-point range, you tip your cap and move on; as a team, they’re about average in this regard. Give their guards some space and keep them from creating mis-matches at the rim by getting past their man, because the results are either A) made shots or B) defensive rebounders caught out of position, leading to second chance points. Offensively, the Pelicans’ success may depend highly on Tyreke’s ability to penetrate without turning the ball over against the feisty Lowry, as doing so will cause the Raptors’ defense to make adjustments of their own. I expect this game to be closer than many expect, though predicting a win is admittedly ambitious. Regardless, tonight’s game should be a fun one to watch. Enjoy!


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