It might be a good thing the Pelicans will be back on the court so soon after one of their worst performances of the year yesterday in Brooklyn. The bad news is they're facing the Toronto Raptors, the 3rd best team in the East. That's right, the Canadian team isn't remotely a pushover anymore, especially with the dismissal of Rudy Gay. (The Raptors are 20-12 in games Gay has not stepped onto the floor.)
Although the Raptors have lost 3 of their last 4, they are a very solid team. In their 32 games without the overpaid wing, they have the 5th best defensive rating (100.6) and the 10th best offensive rating (106.0) in the association. That's a large enough of a sample size, even if you consider they face a number of weak Eastern conference opponents.
Three keys to victory:
- Contain Kyle Lowry. IMO, the biggest snub of the All-Star festivities was this guy (with Joe Johnson getting selected ahead of him.) Since Gay's departure, Lowry has averaged 17.9 PPG, 7.8 AST, 4.9 REB, 1.5 STL and 2.7 3PM. Although DeRozan scores more a game, he isn't nearly as efficient nor the playmaker of Lowry.
- Dominate the paint. Toronto is below average (22nd) in points in the paint and average (14th) in holding opponents in the same area. It hasn't been a mystery for some time, but for the Pelicans to have a good chance to win a game, Anthony Davis needs to #TakeFlight and be the best big on the floor. Anything out of Ajinca or Steimsma would be a bonus.
- Get out in transition. Despite a speedy lineup, the Raptors do not look to push the ball. Head coach Dwyane Casey is a defensive minded coach and implores his team to keep the turnovers to a minimum. After last night's 10 fastbreak points against the old Nets, the Pelicans simply must do a better job of taking advantage of one of their strengths. Without enough easy points, injury-riddled New Orleans will struggle to beat most on a given night.