With losing streak over, Hornets host Raptors (Jan 20, 2017)

BY AP • January 19, 2017

There's no place like home whether it's somewhere in Kansas or Charlotte, and the Hornets were ecstatic to return to North Carolina on Wednesday after a horrid road trip that resulted in five losses and no wins.

Back at the Spectrum Center, Charlotte walloped the Portland Trail Blazers 107-85 to end their five-game skid. The Hornets will try to keep the momentum going when they play host to the Toronto Raptors (28-14) on Friday.

Kemba Walker led Charlotte (21-21) with 23 points against the Blazers, making four 3-pointers. Nicolas Batum contributed 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.

"I almost forgot what it felt like to win," Walker said. "It's been a while, but it feels good, especially here at home. I thought we did a great job. We came out with great intensity from the beginning of the game and I thought we did a great job on both ends of the floor for 48 minutes. Defensively, we were on it, on our games. We were in the right spots all night communicating."

But the key to getting back on the winning track was the Hornets' defense, which held the Trail Blazers to 35 percent shooting from the field.

That defense, which had given up more than 100 points in eight straight games, will be severely tested by the Raptors (28-14). Toronto comes to Charlotte averaging 111 points per game -- third best in the league.

Last time out, however, the Raptors laid an egg in a 94-89 loss to Philadelphia. The Raptors had won 14 straight against the Sixers, their longest winning streak against one team since they beat the Bulls 16 times in a row from 1999-2002.

Game planning for the Raptors starts and ends with Toronto's talented All-Star backcourt duo of DeMar DeRozan (28.2 points per game) and Kyle Lowry (22.2 ppg). Against the 76ers, DeRozan did his usual damage (25 points), and Lowry dropped 24 points in the loss. However, Lowry's subpar overall performance opened the door, and Philadelphia took advantage.

Lowry went 5 of 13 from the floor and committed five of Toronto's 11 turnovers. An 82 percent free-throw shooter, he also missed five of 16 free throws.

"We missed so many shots," Lowry said. "We missed tons of shots. It happens. We lost the game."

The Raptors shot just 40 percent from the field and were outrebounded, which together is a recipe for disaster.

Toronto coach Dwane Casey credited the 76ers for playing tough, tenacious defense, but also said he was bit surprised the Raptors struggled on offense so much.

"They're a good team. They've been playing well. But we missed a lot of open shots," he said. "Fatigue doesn't make any difference. Those are shots we normally make."

If Friday night's game is anything like the first time the Raptors and Hornets met, Casey and Charlotte coach Steve Clifford can expect another grind-it-out game.

In that first meeting on Nov. 11, Walker outscored DeRozan 40-34. However, the Raptors came out ahead, 113-111. Toronto led by as many as 16 in the first half but had to rally from a 10-point deficit early in the fourth quarter to post the victory.

A big difference -- literally -- from that game to today is that the Raptors did not have the services of free agent acquisition forward/center Jared Sullinger -- but on Friday they will.

After missing the first 41 games after October surgery to implant a screw in his left foot, the 6-foot-9, 260-pound Sullinger was active for Toronto's game against the 76ers.

The wide-bodied Sullinger played only 14 minutes but showed flashes on defense while scoring eight points and grabbing three rebounds.

"I felt pretty good," he said. "I've still got a lot of work to do, but overall it felt great."

Sullinger could see his minutes increase quickly with forward Patrick Patterson's status in limbo. Patterson (7.1 points, 5.5 rebounds) missed his fourth straight game on Wednesday because of a balky knee, and he will be a game-time decision on Friday.



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