The Toronto Raptors (David) meet the Charlotte Hornets (Goliath) tonight in Time Warner Arena. It is unusual to refer to a (45-32) team with a guaranteed playoff birth as the underdog David when facing a (33-44) team that is fighting for 8th seed, but the Raptors lost both contests against Charlotte this season by wide margins. Also Charlotte is an up and coming team that has had a much better season since the all-star break, and always seems to get the better of the Raps somehow.
The Raptors have to win this if they want to earn that 50 win season but that may not be enough motivation with Kyle Lowry (back) and Amir Johnson (ankle) ruled out and Charlotte gunning for a playoff spot – this may be a tough night for the Raptors.
Cage’s Keys to the game:
1. Ball movement, ball movement, ball movement:
I cannot say it enough, the Raptors need to move the ball! The Raps young players still resort to ‘hero ball’ and take questionable shots when they have time to make one or two (sometimes three) extra passes. The Raps will have to stick to their game plan to open up the floor and make high percentage shots. They have to remember good scorers don’t just make difficult shots they find ways to make easy baskets.
The Raptors caught a break tonight; Charlotte is playing without Big Al Jefferson, Cody Zeller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Also, Bismack Biyombo is playing with a broken nose which will limit his effectiveness. The Raptors need to take advantage of the gapping whole in front and dominate the glass. Second chance points and extended possessions will make all the difference against a tough opponent.
3. Guard Play
Kemba Walker and Mo Williams together are a dangerous combination. They both can shoot and move the ball with relative quickness. The Raps starting backcourt of Greivis Vasquez and DeMar DeRozan will have their work cut out for them. They will have to chase Walker and Williams off the arc as both are dangerous 3-point shooters, and disrupt passing lanes to disrupt Charlotte’s offensive flow. Fortunately the Hornets have limited options tonight, so this should be easier than usual.
At full strength the Raptors have a better team. Tonight, after accounting for all injuries, they are fielding a much better squad. However, the Raps have some growing up to do. They have struggled with Charlotte these past years and they can’t let this history get in their heads. They need to remain calm and stick to Casey’s system: old fashioned, hard nosed defense and lots of ball movement. If they do this, ‘David’ wins and we keep hope for a 50 win season alive.
Lets go Raps!