The Toronto Raptors look to sweep their season series against the Atlanta Hawks at the Philips Arena, starting at 8 p.m. EST.
The Raptors (52-25) are on the first night of a back-to-back, returning home tomorrow to play the Indiana Pacers. The third-seeded Hawks (46-32) are looking to distance themselves from Boston and Miami in a crowded race for the third spot in the Eastern Conference.
In their last meeting, Toronto beat Atlanta,105-97, earning them their first 50-win season in franchise history. Kyle Lowry got a double-double, scoring 17 points and dishing out 11 assists. DeMar DeRozan scored 26 points, including three 3-pointers. While Jonas Valanciunas scored 19 points, also grabbing nine rebounds.
Cage’s Keys to the Game:
Defend the paint
The Hawks can get to the rim, especially with players like Paul Millsap, Kent Bazemore and Al Horford. The Raptors were able to limit all of them to under 10 points last game, thanks to Bismack Biyombo and Valanciunas, who is showing great strides on defence.
Own the three
The Raptors made 11 for 23 three pointers in their last game, giving them an extra boost on offence. Tonight, they need to lock down the perimeter. Toronto did a good job defending Kyle Korver, who did not make a single three last game, but some sloppy defence allowed players like Jeff Teague, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Mike Scott to rain down shots from beyond the arc.
Watch the bench
Atlanta’s starters were struggling to find an offensive rhythm last game, but their bench combined for 53 points, nearly pulling the Hawks to a comeback. The Raptors need a strong defensive presence from their second unit if they hope to make a statement win against the Hawks.
X-factor: Jonas Valanciunas
JV has shown great improvement on the defensive end these past few weeks. In the past five games, Valanciunas has been averaging a double-double with 13.6 points and 10.2 rebounds. His growth on the offensive end provides relief for Lowry and DeRozan, who lead the team in scoring.
On the defensive end, he has shown tremendous improvement in rebounding and blocks. Tonight’s match-up against Horford will be another test for JV, who will look to see if he can take on one of the best big men in the East.