Raptors-Hornets Preview

The Toronto Raptors are starting a tough three-game trip, but just got some welcome news that help is on the way.

Kyle Lowry is expected to start for the Raptors on Friday night as they seek to break out of some recent woes against the Charlotte Hornets, who have done well lately without top scorer Kemba Walker.

Lowry was rested the last three games due to some nagging injuries. He is averaging 11.6 points – 6.4 below his average – on 29.7 percent shooting in five games since the All-Star break.

The point guard will travel on this trip that includes stops in Oklahoma City and San Antonio, and coach Dwane Casey said there are no restrictions on the amount of minutes Lowry will play.

”Some players it takes a couple of games to get their sea legs back,” Casey said Friday. ”Kyle has been working. It’s not like he’s not been doing anything.”Toronto (38-23) had the luxury of resting Lowry with a 12-game Atlantic Division lead over Brooklyn.

The Raptors don’t have the luxury of overlooking the Hornets, who have won five straight over Toronto and seven straight home meetings. Charlotte (26-33) is badly in need of victories since it holds the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

Walker has been out since Jan. 23 due to left knee surgery and is on track to return next week.

Veteran Mo Williams, acquired Feb. 10 from Minnesota, has helped stabilize the Hornets in Walker’s absence. Williams is averaging 21.6 points in seven games with his new club and 12.7 assists during Charlotte’s three-game win streak.

He is forming a lethal combination with fellow Mississippi native and close friend Al Jefferson, who is averaging 18.7 points and 10.7 boards in this win streak. Jefferson had 19 points in 25 minutes and Williams had a season-best 14 assists in Tuesday’s 115-91 rout at Brooklyn.

The Hornets raced to a 29-6 lead and led by 20 after one quarter to move one game in front of the Nets.

"I felt like the team that wanted it more was going to win the game," Williams said. "It’s just, the teams are so much evenly matched and I felt like for the most part we came out and we punched them in the mouth early."

Charlotte didn’t have an injured Jefferson and was obviously without Williams as Gerald Henderson scored a season-high 31 in its 103-95 win at Toronto on Jan. 8 in the teams’ only meeting. The Raptors played without an injured DeMar DeRozan.

DeRozan has scored 60 in his last two games with 25 on Wednesday in the Raptors’ sixth loss in seven games, 120-112 to Cleveland. Toronto had rallied from a 19-point, second-half deficit to take the lead.

"I was proud the way our team fought and scrapped and like I told them, the more we can build on that and have more minutes we played and the desperation mode that we played in the second half, we’re going to be OK," coach Dwane Casey said.

Reserve guard Lou Williams is averaging 23.0 points in his last three games for Toronto, which averages 39.7 points from its bench for the NBA’s seventh-best mark.

That figures to be an edge on Charlotte, averaging a league-worst 24.4 bench points since the All-Star break.