The Toronto Raptors will try to combat “Tanknation” and surpass their longest winning streak of the season on Wednesday night when they receive a visit from the Charlotte Bobcats.
If the NBA season were to end now, Toronto (9-13) and Charlotte (10-14) would be the eighth and seventh seed in the East – further epitomizing the futility of the Eastern Conference.
The Bobcats have fared well against the Raptors recently, winning seven of the past 10 matches.
This should be a tight game. Here are the Cage’s Five Keys to the Game.
1. Limiting Big Al
Al Jefferson is a gifted offensive center who regularly torches the opposition with his nimble post skills, mobility and shooting range. The 28-year-old is having another quality season averaging 15.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 2.0 assists and is the sole Bobcat that requires foes to double team. Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson will need to be extra feisty defensively in order to limit Big Al’s production.
2. Ball Movement
Following Rudy Gay’s departure, the team assist totals have increased (surprise surprise) and frankly the Raptors are playing better. Toronto had 24 assists in their 108-100 win against the Philadelphia 76ers and the following night amassed 26 assists in a rout over the tenacious Chicago Bulls. The rock is moving well and long gone are the days of disorganized iso-heavy wing offense!
3. In DD We Trust
Fun fact: DeMar DeRozan is 11th in the NBA in scoring (21.4 ppg) – ahead of household names including Dirk Nowitzki, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving and Blake Griffin.
Funner fact: DeRozan has averaged 21.8 points, 5.5!!! assists, 4.3 boards, 1.0 steals after the Rudy Gay trade.
The California native continues to impress and has proved to Raptorland that he is capable of being a productive scorer at an affordable price tag.
4. Don’t overlook Charlotte’s defense
Charlotte has an elite team defense that sits in the upper echelon of most defensive categories including – first overall in the NBA in opponent field goals made per game (34.0), third in opponent points per game (92.5) and fourth in opponent field goal percentage (.428). The Bobcats have athleticism at every position and never give up an easy basket.
5. Battling on the glass
The Bobcats have size and have above average rebounders such as the aforementioned Jefferson, Bismack Biyombo, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Josh McRoberts. Charlotte currently averages 43.2 rebounds per game but has difficulty in limiting opponent rebounds per game (43.3) and opponent defensive rebounds per game (34.0) – persistence on the boards will determine the outcome of this contest.
X-Factor: Amir Johnson
I’m going to go out on a limb and say Johnson provides that extra mojo for a Raptors win. He’s posted three double-doubles in his past five games, and should see more touches going forward.