The Toronto Raptors have hit the road in search of their 38th win of the season. They have their eyes set on breaking the Atlanta Hawks’ four-game winning streak tonight at Philips Arena at 7:30 p.m. The Raptors (37-28) are fighting to extend their one-game lead over the Chicago Bulls for third place in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks (30-35) are clinging on to the last playoff spot. The season series is currently tied at 1-1, as both teams have protected home court.
The teams last met just before the All-Star break. Atlanta struck first at the Air Canada Centre. They led 24-19 after the opening frame. Undeterred, the Raptors cut the deficit to one going into the half. From there, it was all Raptors. DeMar DeRozan scored 14 of his 31 points in the third quarter. The men in white outscored the Hawks 59-39 in the second half, and won by a final score of 104-83.
Cage’s Keys to the Game:
To say the Hawks take and make a lot of three-pointers is an understatement. They are second in the league in three-point attempts and first in made three-point baskets. Their main culprit? Kyle Korver. The elite shooter hits 2.7 three-pointers per game shooting 48.8 per cent. He boasts a true shooting percentage of 67.4 per cent. The Hawks drain threes at a 37.9 per cent rate (5th). The Raptors cannot afford to leave guys open on the perimeter, especially not No. 26.
Seeing green? Why, that’s Kyle Korver’s shot chart:
Play Raptors Basketball:
The Raptors defence ranks sixth in the league. You wouldn’t know it based on the 121 points they gave up to the Pheonix Suns on Sunday. The Raptors must go back to playing their game, but it won’t be easy. The Hawks are coming off impressive wins against the Charlotte Bobcats and Denver Nuggets. During their current win streak, they are scoring over 100 points while shooting 45.9 per cent. They are moving the ball very well, notching 26.3 assists (4th). All-Star Paul Millsap is averaging 24 points, 8 rebounds and nearly 2 blocks over the stretch. The Raptors are the stronger team inside and on the glass. Amir Johnson must be aggressive and force Millsap out of the paint, where he is not a reliable shooter.
Bench Must Contribute:
In their 121-113 loss to the Suns, Toronto’s bench was outscored 59-11. Patrick Patterson’s absence has hurt the team. He is not expected to return for at least another week. In the meantime, the Raptors cannot sit around feeling sorry for themselves. The second unit needs to produce. Dwane Casey will likely bring in Tyler Hansbrough to outwork the shell of Elton Brand for some buckets near the rim. The Hawks are 18th in the NBA in guarding the perimeter. Raptors three-point specialist Steve Novak could see some time on the floor. He hit five threes against the Minnesota Timberwolves just over a week ago.
X-Factor: Kyle Lowry
Kyle Lowry versus Jeff Teague is the matchup to watch in this game. Both guards are playing the best basketball of their careers. Lowry has been the Raptors’ MVP this season. He averages 17.2 points, 7.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game. Lowry is coming off a 28-point and 13-assist effort, and a concussion scare. He has been cleared to play tonight. His opponent, Teague, averages 16 points and 7 assists. Lowry got the best of Teague in their last matchup. They both shot poorly from the field (4-13 for Teague and 5-13 for Lowry), but Toronto’s point guard racked up twice as many assists and steals.