The Toronto Raptors have enjoyed several days of practise and healing at home since winning on Saturday night, and will be ready to handle the Charlotte Bobcats. Motivation shouldn’t be a problem; my vote for the worst loss of the Raps’ young season occurred against the ‘Cats in early November. The visitors got their season off to a solid start, but lost 3 straight before defeating Rudy & The Kings last night. Charlotte has been an NBA bottom-feeder for too long, and fan support has become a problem. Who would pay to see a team win 7 games and lose 59, as they managed to do in the lockout-shortened season of ’11-’12?
Brighter days are ahead in North Carolina. [20-second timeout: The team's name will change, or revert, to Hornets next season. Hence my selection of owner Michael Jordan making the news official as this post's feature photo.] This year’s ‘Cats are young, yet not rookie-laden. Al Jefferson came over as a free agent from Utah to provide points in the paint, and Kemba Walker is a speedy point guard who can score. Bismack Biyombo, the epitome of a “project” player, is showing signs of rewarding his coach’s patience. Perhaps the greenest offensive player I’ve ever seen in an NBA uniform as a rookie, he may yet advance from being little more than an athletic freak (this man can jump!) to a contributor at both ends of the floor. Josh McRoberts, a smart big man I’ve always liked, is their second-leading assist provider from the top of the key. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, another youngster with potential, starts at small forward.
If there ever was a statement game for the Raps’ Rudy-less lineup, it’s this one. We just received an injection of veteran rotation players, and should be able to handle the scuffling ‘Cats if we:
- Keep the ball on the perimeter on defense. Charlotte struggles to score, and with a team shooting percentage of 29.7 from beyond the 3-point arc, that’s hardly a surprise. While it’s tiring to challenge the ball-handler (Walker) all the way up the floor, the chance to eat precious seconds off the shot clock may be worthwhile. Jonas Valanciunas will have his hands full with Jefferson (who may need to be double-teamed), so the longer the ball stays outside, the better. Watch how many times the ‘Cats force up awkward shots after 20 seconds. If it’s a lot, the Raps will win.
- Move the ball on offense. You’d think I wouldn’t have to say this anymore, but I’m going to regardless. The ‘Cats allow only 92.3 Points Per Game [PPG], a remarkably low number for such a youthful team. However, they are extremely vulnerable to the 3-ball, having given up 74 more than they have scored. If our guys swing the ball, there will be some open looks. Let’s hope Terrence Ross’ long-distance shooting woes are limited to that Chicago game.
- Win the battle of the second units. It’s so refreshing to write that the Raps’ bench is now solid enough that we can do more than merely hope for a saw-off against the other guys’ scrubs. Greivis Vasquez should own Ramon Sessions, Patrick Patterson can hit from outside against whoever he’s facing, Tyler Hansbrough will battle Biyombo for every rebound…you get the picture.
The Raps are motivated, well-rested and better than the ‘Cats. It won’t be easy, but our guys will prevail 98-89.
Brian Boake is Senior Editor for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.
Remember, for the best deals on Toronto Raptors tickets for any game on the 2013-14 NBA schedule, visit our friends at TiqIQ.com.