Raptors prepare for early afternoon start vs. Hornets

The Toronto Raptors will attempt to extend their winning streak to five games in what has been an uncomfortable setting when they visit the Charlotte Hornets for an afternoon game Sunday In Charlotte, N.C.

The Raptors have played three games at 1 p.m. or earlier this season and, at least in the eyes of coach Dwane Casey, haven’t looked particularly sharp in any.

That’s a big reason why Casey delayed the team flight to Charlotte on Saturday until after he was able to put the players through an early workout.

“You got to be ready to be a pro, understand how it feels, what you have to do to get ready to play,” he explained. “We have to be mentally prepared and understand the game starts at 1 p.m.”

The Raptors have gone 2-1 in early starts this season, but neither win was impressive. They struggled both times offensively against weak competition in 101-86 and 102-87 victories over Memphis and Sacramento, respectively.

In between, they mixed in a 117-111 loss at Philadelphia.

The Hornets, meanwhile, appear to like the 1 p.m. starting time. They won 115-110 at Phoenix last Sunday, and Sunday’s game will be their first of four scheduled 1 p.m. home starts the rest of the season.

The Hornets, who have won their last two home games, have hardly had time to unpack their bags after returning home Saturday morning from a 1-3 Western swing on which they lost their last three games at Denver, Portland and Utah.

The Hornets seemed to run out of gas in Friday’s loss at Utah, scoring only 17 points in the fourth quarter of what had been a competitive game.

“I guess we just lost our juice a little bit,” Hornets energizer Kemba Walker admitted. “They kind of took advantage of that.”

There has been plenty of juice in the first two meetings between the Raptors and Hornets this season. Toronto has bombed in a total of 30 3-pointers while rolling up big point totals in 126-113 and 129-111 wins.

As usual, guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have done much of the damage.

Lowry had 36 points, mostly on eight 3-pointers, in the first matchup. DeRozan followed a 30-point effort against the Hornets in the first meeting with 28 in the second.

If the Raptors have had any problems in the two games, it has been dealing with the Hornets’ Jeremy Lamb. He has ignited better-than-usual Charlotte offensive efforts with a total of 50 points, including 32 in the most recent meeting.

The Lowry-Walker matchup has produced fireworks more times than not in recent Raptors-Hornets duels.

Lowry has lit up the Hornets for 20 or more points in 11 of his last 14 meetings.

Meanwhile, Walker has countered with 24 or more points in six of his last 12 games against the Raptors.

A Toronto win would clinch a season series win with a 3-0 record in the four-game series. The Raptors haven’t beaten the Hornets three times in the same season since they were known as the Bobcats in 2007.