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Game Preview: New Orleans Pelicans at Toronto Raptors

After a disappointing loss against Philadelphia, can the Pelicans take care of business and steal a victory over the Toronto Raptors?

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

This was supposed to be a bit of an easy stretch for the Pelicans. Turn back the clock to 2014 and say "We’re playing Charlotte, Boston, Detroit, and Philadelphia," and you would think 4-0 is in play. Instead, the Pelicans are 2-2 in those games, with two pretty noticeable second half implosions on the defensive end. The Pelicans are currently 19-20, but now 3.5 games out of the eighth seed, with the Suns catching fire.

The Sixers game deserves a bit of a mulligan because of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday being out, but losing by 15? That’s a bit much, even with the game in Philadelphia. With upcoming games against New York and Los Angeles (the bad ones), I see that being a nice little streak. The issue is, they have to play Toronto first. Let’s talk about those Toronto Raptors and how the Pelicans can snag a win in the Great White North.

Assuming Davis and Holiday are out, this will be a tough game for the Pelicans.

After a majestic start to the season, the Raptors are now 4-6 in their last 10 games, falling to third in the Eastern Conference at 26-13. After last season’s Rudy Gay trade netted them depth pieces, the Raptors exploded to a 3rd seed and a found themselves with a budding superstar in Kyle Lowry as well. Some of their younger players like DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross and Amir Johnson took a step forward, and the Raptors instantly became the best team in the Atlantic Division.

Stats Of Note

This year, they’re doing much of the same, continuing their hot start and easily running away with the division, thanks to an elite offense. HP Network’s Nylon Calculus ranks them as the best offense in the league with a 115.2 offensive efficiency ranking. A simple reason could be because of the nine players they have averaging at least eight points per game, but it’s the different players that contribute in the backcourt. Lowry is a star, but Louis Williams is having an excellent contract season as a sixth man, Terrance Ross is in a slump, but he’s still offering blistering three-point shooting (37.9% this season), and DeRozan was playing well before the injury.

The problem, however, is the decline on the defensive end. The Raptors rank 22nd defensively, and it feels like a mystery why they’re so bad. You would think rim protection, Jonas isn’t a great rim protector, but the Raptors are in the top ten (seventh) at defending the rim. Would it be threes? The Raptors are ninth in the league on field goal percentage on shots from 25-29 feet. What kills them is the midrange. The Raptors are last in the league in defending shots from 20-24 feet and 29th on shots from 15-19 feet, giving the Pelicans two places for them to attack.

Other than that, the Raptors seem like a solid team, but not too remarkable. They don’t turn the ball over, but they rank in the middle of the pack in terms of passes per game and assists per game. They don’t rebound the ball at a spectacular rate, either, raking right in the middle in rebounding percentage. The elite offense propels them and covers their rather middling ball movement, defense, and rebounding marks. Not a terrible way to win, but things like that always get exposed in the playoffs.

That said, I like how they built this successful team. They hit on their draft picks (Jonas, Ross, DeRozan and eventually, Bruno Caboclo.), they found a gem (Amir Johnson), and did a good work in trades (Lowry, Williams, Patterson). They have two first round picks in 2016, too, meaning they could look for a trade for an upgrade if they want. If not, they still have the picks to replace players when necessary and maintain flexibility. It’s an enviable position to say the least.

Keys to Victory

Don’t allow an avalanche — The Raptors have the offense in both their starting lineup and bench rotation to make this an ugly game. New Orleans needs to have capable defenders out there to make sure this doesn’t become a blowout. The coaching staff, mostly Monty, needs to make sure to call timeouts when he sees the Toronto offense clicking. Throw your best defender on Lowry, Pondexter/Gordon on shooters and make sure this doesn’t end quick.

Defend the three point line — Here are the Raptors shooters by 3FGA and 3FG%: Lowry (5.5, 35.6%), Ross (5.2, 37.9%), Williams (5.2, 35.0%), Greivis Vasquez (4.1, 33.1%) and Patrick Patterson (3.5, 43.2%). Having those guys around the perimeter is a scary thing for opposing defenses. You can’t stop all five, but taking two out of the game could make this a much closer game.

Who will step up? — Assuming Davis and Holiday are both out, someone needs to step up. Usually, that guy is Tyreke Evans, who always has one game where he fills the stat sheet up and pulls New Orleans close to a victory. Guys like Eric Gordon, Quincy Pondexter, and Ryan Anderson will need to take their games up a level in order to pull out a victory in Toronto.