The Toronto Raptors travel to Atlanta on Wednesday for a rematch with the Hawks after defeating Atlanta 109-102 on opening night at the Air Canada Centre. The 12-2 NBA leading Raptors are 3-1 away from home this season and have rallied from double-digit deficits in each of their last two road contests. Toronto has never started a season 4-1 on the road.
The 7-5 Hawks are 5-1 at home and riding a two-game winning streak after defeating the Pistons 99-89 in Atlanta on Friday and taking down the Wizards in Washington 106-102 on Tuesday night.
In their first meeting, Toronto appeared to be solidly in control all evening and led 98-82 with 6.4 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Then the Hawks picked up the pace and closed to within 4 points over the next five minutes. The Raptors defense finally stiffened and Toronto won the game on free throws over the last 46 seconds, but not without some anxious moments. Atlanta made 13 three-pointers against the Raptors including 3 during their five minute comeback attempt.
In the Raptors last game against the Suns in Toronto on Monday, it was a fourth quarter barrage of three-pointers by the visitors that eliminated a 17 point Raptors lead and nearly cost Toronto the game. Once again the Raptors defense stiffened in time to win 104-100, but the cracks in their perimeter defense were made apparent once again.
Toronto is, however, on a 5 game winning streak and backup guard Lou Williams was named Eastern Conference Player-of-the-Week for games played November 17-24. Williams scored a career-high 36 points on the road in Cleveland on Saturday. Toronto leads the NBA by scoring 11.6 more points per game than their opponents and turning the ball over 5.6 fewer times per game. The Raptors are not beating themselves.
In Atlanta, the Hawks former All-Star center Al Horford is still rounding into form after returning from last season’s injury, but he has shot 70.5 percent from the field over his last 5 games, so there are signs he is shaking off the rust.
2014 All-Star Paul Millsap is the only player in the NBA this year averaging at least 17 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 0.9 blocks per game. Millsap has also scored in double-figures in 35 consecutive games dating back to last season, the longest streak of his career.
Kyle Korver is the only player in the NBA shooting at least 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the line. He has scored double digits in 7 games this season and the Hawks have won the last 5 times he has scored at least 12 points. Korver scored 20 points and shot 6-7 from deep in the Hawks loss to Toronto.
Forward Mike Scott gave the Raptors fits on opening night by stretching the floor and hitting on 4-6 three-point attempts. He is shooting 38 percent from three-point range on the season.
If Toronto can control the pace and guard the three-point line effectively enough, the end result in Atlanta shouldn’t be any different than on opening night.
The Raptors have an opportunity to match the best stretch of wins in team history with a victory. Toronto has won 10 of their last 11 games and is one win shy of a stretch in 2002 when they won 11 of 12 games at the end of the regular season.
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The NBA has announced that the Toronto Raptors Lou Williams and the Sacramento Kings DeMarcus Cousins today were named NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week.
“Most of all I’m impressed with Lou (Williams) defense,” Casey said. “He has a reputation of being a scorer, but now he’s doing a much better job defensively for us which allows him to stay in and guard guys like Waiters and Irving and people like that.”