Game Preview: Raptors vs. Hornets
The Toronto Raptors are looking for their seventh straight victory as they host the Charlotte Hornets at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday. Toronto is coming off a high-scoring victory against the Orlando Magic where they won 131-112. Wednesday's game is a back-to-back for the Hornets who dropped a 118-108 decision to the Milwaukee Bucks in Charlotte on Tuesday.
Tip-off: 7:30 P.M. ET
Broadcast info: SN1 / TSN1050
Winning with defence
Although the Raptors won their sixth straight contest on Monday, head coach Dwane Casey wasn't thrilled with how the game was played. Winning 131-112, Toronto posted its second-highest regulation points total in franchise history. With just eight regular season games remaining, Casey wants his team's focus to be on defence rather than putting points on the board.
"We'll take the win but we can't be happy with our defensive performance, trading baskets like that," he said. "We have bigger goals in mind and if we intend on achieving them, we have to have a better mindset than we had defensively. We shot 59 percent from the field [against the Magic]. Offence is not the problem. It's the defensive side that we did not have a focus on."
Cory Joseph agreed with his coach's words. Joseph, the lone Raptors player with a championship ring on his resume from his time with the San Antonio Spurs, has long preached the importance of the defensive end of the floor, particularly in the postseason.
"It was a good win, but at the same time we didn't do well defensively," he said. "I think they almost shot 50 percent. Our offence was there today, that's why we got the win, but going forward defence is going to win us games and that's what we have to focus on."
Joseph providing stability
As DeMar DeRozan has dropped 40-point games and P.J. Tucker has dominated fourth quarters with his defensive intensity the performances of Cory Joseph have sometimes remained under the radar. While the point guard hasn't had any offensive explosions in recent weeks, the stability he has provided for the Raptors each night as he has stepped up and into Kyle Lowry's starting position has been crucial for the run the team is on.
Joseph had one of his best games against the Magic, recording a 15-point, 13-assist double-double. The 13 dimes were a career high, but numbers aside, the way Joseph is playing his own game and doing what he does best has been immeasurably important for the Raptors.
Earlier this season, Joseph went through a rough stretch. Casey was adamant that Joseph would bounce back, that he was one of the team's most competitive players, and that he would be ready when he was needed. When Lowry needed to undergo wrist surgery, Joseph's number was called and he has answered the bell.
"I feel good," Joseph said. "I feel like we're going in the right direction. The past however many games our mentality has been where it needs to be, entering the game we've been playing pretty well, playing hard, playing with energy and we have to continue it."
Trending in the right direction
With Monday's victory against the Magic, the Raptors improved to 12-5 since Kyle Lowry underwent right wrist surgery. Losing a three-time All-Star point guard and still manage to figure out ways to win isn't a small feat. To be on a six-game winning streak is equally impressive.
In recent weeks, Dwane Casey has stressed the importance of trending in the right direction heading into the postseason. Most concerned with the defence he has been encouraged by the team's improved commitment to slowing opponents.
The Toronto Sun's Ryan Wolstat outlined Toronto's recent defensive improvements, writing that over the previous 15 games, the Raptors rank No. 2 defensively in the league. Because of this boost, the team is now ranked No. 6 in both offensive and defensive efficient, making it the one of four teams in the league to rank in the top 10 of both categories. The other three teams are the Warriors, Spurs and Celtics.