Preview: Raptors (5-2) at Hornets (6-1)

The NBA season is still relatively young, but tonight’s game Raptors-Hornets appears to be a precursor of the playoffs.

The Charlotte Hornets have stepped smartly into the season, with a sparkling record which loses a few bubbles when examined more closely. They have done what they should do against punching bags like Brooklyn and Philadelphia, but dropped their only bragging-rights game against the Celtics.

The Toronto Raptors are fresh off a defeat of the OKC Thunder, despite playing shorthanded. But Charlotte has always proven a thorn in the side of Toronto; they lead the lifetime series 40-29, even though they have floored some hideous teams over the years. In the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, Charlotte managed a 7-59 record, for a crisp .106 winning percentage. I have to give you the link so you’ll believe me.

However, the Hornets look pretty solid to me. I forecast them for 43 wins, and won’t be surprised if they exceed that.

3 Keys to Victory for Toronto

  1. DeMar DeRozan continues to light up the scoreboard. I write that with little pleasure, but where’s the alternative? Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas are day-to-day with their irksome injuries, so the number of scoring options are limited.
  2. Don’t turn over the ball. Charlotte has an impressive +3.7 in turnovers forced vs. lost. Kemba Walker, their track-star point guard, makes almost 2 steals per game, so carelessness will be penalized.
  3. Play loose on the perimeter. That runs contrary to my usual take on this matter, however, Charlotte ranks eighth in 3-point attempts but just twentieth in percentage made. I’ll take those numbers, rather than trying too hard to close out and being beaten on the dribble.
3 Charlotte players to watch
  1. Frank Kaminsky. Their version of Jakob Poeltl is turning out a better pro than I thought he’d be. He’s mobile and has a decent handle.
  2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He’s due back from injury, and will mix it up on the boards.
  3. Nicolas Batum. The Frenchman has a nice stroke from outside.

Apr 5, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker (15) looks to play a ball as Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) tries to defend during the second quarter in a game at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Conclusion & Final Score

While I was greatly heartened by the performance of the Raptors’ rotation players on Wednesday, I think we’re wishing on a star for such results to become the norm.

I suspect we’re going to see a low-scoring game.

Raptors 96 – Hornets 93

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