Game Preview: Raptors @ Hornets
Holly MacKenzie - Raptors.com
The Raptors hope to build on an impressive 112-102 road win in Oklahoma City when they face the Hornets in Charlotte on Friday. The Hornets boast an impressive 6-1 record through their first seven games, matching the Cleveland Cavaliers for tops in the Eastern Conference.
Tip-off: 7 P.M. ET
Broadcast info: SN1/TSN1050
Patience paying off for Powell
After playing sparingly in the first three games of the season, Norman Powell has seen his minutes increase as Dwane Casey has called upon him for his defence. With Terrence Ross missing Wednesday’s game against the Thunder because of a sprained index finger, Powell recognized his opportunity and ran with it. In 23 minutes, Powell scored nine points to go with two rebounds and a steal, while giving a spirited effort on defence to go along with his ever-present attack mentality on offence.
“I thought Norm did a good job [against the Thunder].” Casey said. “I thought he came in and attacked some match ups we had. He gives us that third attacker along with Kyle [Lowry] and DeMar [DeRozan].”
Although he would like to play more like any NBA reserve, Powell understands his role within the team. Where another younger player might find frustration, Powell is calm.
“I have high expectations for myself,” he said. “That’s the long picture for me. I’m not worried about the short term. I’m worried about what’s going to be good for me in the long run, what’s going to be good for this team. That’s me playing my role and being a great teammate, working hard, and bringing energy and effort every day.”
Healthy Nogueira gives Casey options
Lucas Nogueira had his best effort of the season against the Thunder. Making appearances in the team’s previous two games with Jonas Valanciunas out because of a knee contusion, the big man played 29 minutes on Wednesday, scoring 10 points on a perfect 5-for-5 field goals to go with seven rebounds, a block, two assists and two steals. Nogueira missed the start of the season with a sprained ankle, a disappointing setback after he’d put together a solid preseason. He was ecstatic to be back on the floor for the previous two games.
“Its great,” Nogueira said. “My body feels great. When the game was finished [in Oklahoma City], I still felt a lot of energy, I could still play a bit more. This is great, because I’ve suffered with a lot of injuries the past two years, sometimes tough, sometimes small injuries, but they’ve kept me off the floor. Now I have a chance to play high level and compete healthy, I’m grateful and it’s very special to me.”
Nogueira being healthy also makes things easier for Casey and the coaching staff, especially when Valanciunas is out of the lineup.
“Speed and quickness, Lucas does a good job of really getting out on some of the speedster point guards,” Casey said. “He did an excellent job [against the Thunder] with covering for our guards. There’s some match ups on the big guys that [Jakob] Poeltl does a good job with …It’s going to be a nightly personnel driven situation.”
Bench contributions picking up
On more than one occasion already this season, the Raptors bench has come into the game to turn things around when the starters have gotten off to a slow start. Casey and the starting five have praised the reserves for staying ready and always being prepared when they’re called upon.
“I think NBA life is very simple,” Nogueira said. “If you want to stay in the league, you’ve got to do what the coach wants.
This is going to be my third year in the league and we’ve always had a great second unit,” He continued. “Three years straight. I think it’s very important [to have a good bench] to win games and championships. Not every NBA team has a great bench and the Raptors, three years in a row, have had a great bench.”
Part of why the bench unit has been so solid is that the starters are always available for them to learn from. Ask Powell how he’s made such a solid transition from college to the league and he immediately praises the mentorship of both DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.
“I’m able to talk to DeMar, talk to him about what he sees, his breakdown, his moves, how he gets his shot off,” Powell said. “It’s great because you have two All-Stars with two totally different offensive skill sets and I’m able to nitpick and take away from each part of their game and the way they score, the way they get their shots. DeMar’s isos, post-ups, Kyle’s coming off screen-and-roll, pick-and-rolls shooting threes, getting in the paint. It’s two totally different styles and I’m able to build around my skill set on the offensive end around those two, talking to them and what they see and just trying to be a student of the game with them and it’s helping my scoring, it helps me make reads when I’m in the pick-and-roll driving downhill, making me see the extra pass, see helped defence. DeMar is really helping me with my pace on the offensive end and I think it’s paying off.”