Sunday afternoon the Hornets visit the ACC to take on the suddenly 2 in a row winning Raptors with a new head coach and a new defensive attitude holding the Pacers and the Nets to a combined 34.1% field goal percentage in the last 2 games. Sunday, Chris Paul and David West lead the Hornets with Peja Stojakovic to give them a different level of test of their defensive mettle. Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal will be tested inside all afternoon as Chris Paul looks to penetrate and kick all game looking for Peja and Morris Peterson off the dribble. With Tyson Chandler questionable for the game, Hilton Armstrong will be looked upon to provide some offensive boards for this team who will be out manned up front. With Kris Humphries and Anthony Parker still in suits, it will be up to Andrea Bargnani to step in and provide solid defense up front while Jason Kapono and Jamario Moon get the start at the 2 and 3 spots.
Keys for the game:
1) Protect the Paint – allowing only 34 points in the paint to the Nets was a huge victory for this Raptors team that had been averaging 47+ points in the paint nightly. Against the Hornets Chris Paul and Rasual Butler will look to force the Raptors out of the defensive lanes that held Vince Carter to 0 – 13 shooting with no lanes to penetrate. Joey Graham will need to continue his solid work cutting off the top of the lane from the slashing guards the Hornets have.
2) Perimeter defense – Not letting Mo Pete and Peja Stojakovic will be looked to shoot over top of the 1 – 4 structure that Jay has implemented. With Jose Calderon being pulled out of man coverage on Chris Paul, the defensive movement of Jamario Moon and Joey Graham will be critical to putting pressure on the array of shooters this Hornets team will bring to the game.
3) Rebounding – I will say this every game until the Raptors begin to assert themselves on the glass consistently. Against a smaller front court like the Hornets, there is no reason why we can’t dominate this team on the glass, especially if Tyson Chandler does not play. With him out, David West becomes the leading rebounder on this team and he should have a difficult time against Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal all afternoon with Andrea Bargnani in the mix, the Raptors should be able to work toward a more balanced rebounding effort. Though they won the game, the Nets were +15 on the offensive glass. I believe that this will correct itself as the team continues to respond to the schemes and attitudes that Jay has begun to implement on this team.
4) Transition defense – This Hornets team will look to take advantage of turnovers as Chris Paul is one of the league leaders in steals with 53. The Raptors will have to contain the transition offense and early baskets that the Hornets will attempt to capitalize on.
5) Control the Ball – Turnovers will be a huge factor as the Raptors will be hard pressed to keep the ball and keep the number of turnovers closer to 10 than to 20. As this team becomes more comfortable with Jay’s systems, I look to Jose Calderon to have more than 3 assists as well, but more critical, this team needs to keep the assist to turnover ratio closer to 2/1 to continue it’s success. Right now the Raptors are 4th overall in assists per game with 22.8 per game, but they average 14.4 turnovers per game. Lots of room to improve there as a group. They are 4th in the league in A/TO’s right now, but there is a lot of room to improve ball control and work at protecting the ball. The improved play of Roko Ukic has provided a much noticed improvement in this area the past week.
I can see the Raptors working to improve on the effort they have begun to show and should they be able to contain Chris Paul and David West and make Peja take shots under pressure, I think it will be a good start to a brutal week with the Nets and the Mavericks coming to town before facing the Thunder and the Spurs on the road by Saturday.