Hornets-Raptors Preview

Mired in their worst losing streak in more than a year, the road-weary Toronto Raptors have to be feeling good about returning home for their longest stay north of the border.

The Atlantic Division-leading Raptors hope to end their skid with a season-best sixth consecutive home victory Thursday night when they take on red-hot Kemba Walker and the Charlotte Hornets.

Toronto rolled to the best record in the Eastern Conference during an 8-1 stretch before dropping three in a row to close out a season-high six-game road swing. It’s the club’s longest skid since losing five straight from Nov. 26-Dec. 6, 2013.

”It’s three games,” point guard Kyle Lowry said after Sunday’s 125-109 loss at Phoenix. ”Everybody loses games. We weren’t going to go 82 and 0 and we weren’t going to break the Bulls record at 72 and 10.”

Since allowing a 44.3 field-goal percentage over its previous 10 games, Toronto let Golden State shoot 53.3 percent in Friday’s 126-105 defeat and the Suns to make 53.9 percent.

The Raptors (24-7) have played much better on that end during their winning streak at Air Canada Centre, surrendering just 96.0 points per game on 44.4 percent shooting.

They may have to continue that effort to extend their run at home to a half-dozen for the first time since last January. They’re also looking to snap a four-game losing streak against the Hornets (13-24) in the opener of a six-game homestand.

Toronto will likely focus on containing Walker after he finished with 31 points and hit an 11-foot jumper off the glass with 1.4 seconds left to lift Charlotte to a 98-94 home victory over New Orleans on Wednesday.

With Al Jefferson sidelined due to a strained groin, Walker has been the team’s primary scoring option with 31.3 points per game on 23.7 field-goal attempts in his past three. He scored 29 points in the most recent meeting in Toronto on Dec. 18, 2013, sinking a jumper at the overtime buzzer for a 104-102 victory.

Charlotte is 11-3 when Walker eclipses the 30-point plateau.

”The difference now is that he’s shooting the ball better,” coach Steve Clifford said. ”He’s really played at a very high level all year. Earlier in the year, he didn’t shoot the ball as well but he spent so much time working on it in the summer that I was confident he would get it going.”

Gerald Henderson has contributed 14.5 points per game in his last six as he fills in for the injured Lance Stephenson. He’s averaged 18.6 points in his last five meetings with the Raptors.

The Hornets have been on quite a roller coaster ride over the past three weeks. Following a season-high four-game winning streak from Dec. 19-23, they dropped five in a row before regrouping to win their last three.

Charlotte has been solid defensively, allowing an average of 92.5 points in its last four games. It’ll be tested against a Toronto team that has scored 110.7 per game over its past seven despite missing second-leading scorer DeMar DeRozan (groin), who could return Saturday.

Lowry has stepped up by averaging 25.8 points and making 15 of 36 from 3-point range in his last six games, while reserve guard Lou Williams has totaled 37 in his past two.