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What: Charlotte Hornets (6-6) at Toronto Raptors (2-8)

When: 7:30 pm EST

Where: Amalie Arena; Tampa, Fla.

How to watch: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass

The Charlotte Hornets’ four-game win-streak came to an abrupt end with a poor showing last night against the Dallas Mavericks, but thankfully they have a chance to bounce back quickly tonight against a shockingly-bad Toronto Raptors squad.

The Toronto Raptors (2-8) limp back to their 2020-21 home court following a 1-3 Western Conference road trip to host the Charlotte Hornets (6-6) Thursday at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. Tip-off will be at 7:30 p.m. ET. Below, we analyze the Hornets-Raptors NBA betting odds and lines, with picks and predictions.

The Raptors’ road swing ended with back-to-back single-point losses. They were topped 106-105 by the Golden State Warriors Sunday and 112-111 by the Portland Trail Blazers Monday in the second half of the back-to-back. They dropped their last home game against the Boston Celtics 126-114 Jan. 4.

The Hornets are coming off a 104-93 Wednesday loss to the Dallas Mavericks. They had previously won four in a row with two at home and two on the road. Toronto beat Charlotte twice in the preseason by scores of 111-100 and 112-109.

Hornets at Raptors: Betting odds, spread and lines
Odds via BetMGM; access USA TODAY Sports’ betting odds for a full list. Lines last updated at 10:30 a.m. ET.

Money line: Hornets +310 (bet $100 to win $310) | Raptors -400 (bet $400 to win $100)
Against the spread/ATS: Hornets +9.5 (-120) | Raptors -9.5 (+100)
Over/Under: 219.5 (O: -110 | U: -110)
Hornets at Raptors: Key Injuries
Hornets

SF Gordon Hayward (hip) questionable
C Cody Zeller (hand) out
Raptors

None affecting betting lines.

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Hornets at Raptors: Odds, betting lines, predictions and picks
Prediction
Raptors 114, Hornets 102

Money line (ML)
The Raptors (-400) will get right Thursday but we can’t justify laying -400 on a 2-8 team, or any team. They nearly pulled off a fourth-quarter comeback against the Warriors but blew a big fourth-quarter lead against the Blazers. A return to their artificial home court and an Eastern Conference opponent that began the season with much lower expectations will serve them well.

Charlotte is 2-1 in the second half of back-to-backs this year but the Raptors are well-rested and the potential absence of Hayward would be a big loss for the Hornets.

PASS and look to the spread.

Against the spread (ATS)
The RAPTORS -9.5 (+100) should be backed to win by at least 10 points. Toronto has the guards to match up well against Charlotte’s trio of Terry Rozier, Devonte’ Graham and LaMelo Ball, and the continued absence of Zeller will leave space for Raptors PF Pascal Siakam and C Cheap Chris Boucher Jersey in the paint.

Toronto is eighth in the NBA in steals and Charlotte is just 17th in turnover percentage. The Raptors commit more fouls than all but one team, but the Hornets rank just 25th in team free-throw percentage, so Toronto won’t be penalized as badly as it was late in the games against the Warriors and Blazers.

Over/Under (O/U)
The Raptors’ defense has been the most disappointing area of their game this season but a two-day rest and a tired opponent should see a more spirited effort, especially if Hayward needs to sit out. The Hornets are just 3-9 against the Over/Under and fall an average of 7.7 points per game below the line with 107 PPG scored and allowed.

The Raptors rely too heavily on 3-pointers and the Hornets are fourth in the league in 3-point defense.

Take the UNDER 219.5 (-110).

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Also see:

James Borrego says it’s best for LaMelo Ball to come off the bench early in season (Lonzo Wire)
Art of the smokescreen: The thought process behind execs and agents leaking info (Hoops Hype)
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The Raptors lost two key pieces from last year; Cheap Serge Ibaka Jersey and Cheap Marc Gasol Jersey anchored their defense and Cheap Aron Baynes Jersey alone has not been able to replace their production. Nick Nurse had Toronto playing the second-best defense in the NBA in 2019-2020, but through 10 games this season they allow 113.6 points per 100 possessions, placing them in the 23rd percentile via Cleaning The Glass. Cheap OG Anunoby Jersey was a popular Most Improved Player candidate prior to the season, but his offensive skillset hasn’t taken “the leap” yet.

Toronto’s biggest issue this year has been the underwhelming play of Cheap Pascal Siakam Jersey. Coming off of a second-team all-NBA selection, Siakam is averaging 20.4 points per game on 31.0 percent from deep with one a 26.7 percent usage rate that lands him in the 94th percentile, per Cleaning The Glass. He’s only shooting 62 percent at the rim right now and his defensive impact metrics have gone down. It seems like the Raptors had a small margin of error after losing two important big men, and right now they’re just not cutting it. It’s hard to believe a team with Siakam and Cheap Kyle Lowry Jersey that’s coached by Nurse will be this bad for much longer, though.

The Raptors should be all set on the injury front; just Cheap Patrick McCaw Jersey (knee) will be out tonight.

The Hornets didn’t play bad defense yesterday, but their offense was horrible, though shots not falling was probably a big part of that. There has been one lasting problem for the Hornets’ offense in the early-going:

The Hornets’ offense has a tendency to stall out and turn into a grind, especially when Gordon Hayward isn’t playing well. Even with the new additions to the team and their improved ball movement (first in the NBA with a 73.8 assist percentage), they still don’t have enough shot-creation in the half-court to compete on a consistent basis. Devonte’ Graham and PJ Washington’s shooting struggles don’t help, but again, Hayward is the only high-level shot-creator on the roster and he can’t be—nor should he have to be—perfect every single night. This problem was evident earlier in the year, but it seems to have reared its head again last night.

Here are some positive vibes for you all; Hayward did leave the game early last night with a hip injury, but he made the trip to Tampa to play the team from Canada. Hayward (left hip strain) is probable for tonight’s game. Now, let’s take a collective sigh of relief.

What to expect out of this game is beyond me. Toronto has been bad, but they’re not actually bad, so maybe they right the ship tonight? It’s gotta happen eventually. If the Hornets can hit shots tonight and keep up the intensity on defense they should be able to win, but if Hayward doesn’t play the chances of that happening drop significantly.

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After watching the first game of the season, I emphatically declared that the Spurs were probably going to win the title this year. It’s important to get on the record early like that but, also, it’s just really fun to overreact to the first game of the season. Everything is new and hopeful, nobody is quite the team they’re going to be yet, and it feels invigorating to just lean into the blind optimism of something new because, why not? Game 1 is a glorified exhibition.
But we all know that game 2 is where you find out if your team is actually going to win a championship this year!

So, what do we think? Is this the real life or is this just fantasy? The whole thing certainly feels pretty exciting right now and I, for one, am starting to find it hard to figure out where my ironic overconfidence ends and my earnest optimism begins. My rational brain is extremely aware of this team’s limitations and the abundance of monsters lurking down the road (Why, hello there back-to-back games against the Lakers right around the corner), but the soft, goopy other side of my brain that’s still high on Christmas magic is kind of freaking out at the moment.

I really like this team! I haven’t crunched the numbers or run any models or thought about this from an analytical perspective, I just…like the dudes. Every time I start thinking about Dejounte Murray or Lonnie Walker or Keldon Johnson, a big smile creeps on to my face. When I see Cheap DeMar DeRozan Jersey making it his personal mission to outshine all 81 players that ESPN put in front of him on their Top 100 List it makes me want to run through a brick wall for him. When Patty Mills is almost literally becoming a perfect basketball player in front of our eyes it almost seems like I can feel the heat radiating off him through the TV screen. The Spurs are fun right now, I have no idea if they are actually good, but I’m also finding it hard to care.

It has been pointed out by a number of people that last season began with the Spurs starting 3-0 before getting hit in the face with the cold, sobering waters of reality. It’s a really good point and the only actual counterargument I have is..so what? Who cares? When (if???!?!?) the Spurs come crashing back to earth this season then I am sure we will cover it here in exhaustive detail. We will chronicle the pain and the mistakes. We will examine the shortcomings. We will lament the missed opportunities. We will shout at the heavens. What we’re not going to do is waste the good times worrying about the bad times. I refuse.

Let the coaching staff worry about about the transition defense. Let the front office worry about the cap space. Right now, the Spurs are young and promising. The Spurs are weird and cool. The Spurs are fun. If you’re focused on anything else, then I’m not sure why you’re even here in the first place.

Takeaways:
I really missed the fans in this one. Can you imagine how rowdy the ATT Center would’ve been down the stretch? I can’t stop thinking about it. One of my favorite plays in basketball is a momentum changing offensive foul and we had one of those tonight. About a minute left in the game, Spurs down 4, and Cheap Pascal Siakam Jersey tried to split the defenders and instead of slipping past into the lane Patty gets there just in time. The ref on the far side of the court wasted no time emphatically pointing the other way and all of a sudden, the whole temperature of the building changes. I always feel like home crowds get especially hype about that kind of play because they’re such an unexpected treat. There’s a special kind of howl that gets unleashed and I missed that tonight. Adding it to my list of grievances for 2020.
If DeMar’s going to hit 3 or 4 triples every game then every one else might be in big trouble. He’s always been a high volume scorer, but he does seem a little more free than usual right now. It’s like he’s stopped having to worry about being “perfect” in order for the team to succeed, but is instead just focusing on maximizing what he can do within the flow of the game and trusting that it’s going to work out. I’ve always felt like his reluctance to shoot threes has come from this mindset of, like “I’m not great at that so when I shoot them it’s a waste and I can’t waste anything, the team needs me to be perfect.” Right now, it looks like he might be finally buying in a little more to just taking what the defense gives him. If he can get to the basket, great. If he’s got an easy mid-range, take it. If you happen to be beyond the arc all alone…let it fly. The entire team looks this way to be honest. Everything is flowing and the passes are whipping around and, frankly, I think it might be hard not to pull the trigger when you can catch and shoot with that kind of rhythm, regardless of where you are on the court.
This was a weirdly comforting game from LaMarcus for me? I know his final stats were not ideal, but I think it’s good for him to see that the team can pull out a win when he’s not lighting it up out there and I similarly think it’s good that he didn’t seem to be shying away from opportunities. Yea, he’s not really hitting from three yet, but he’s still taking those shots and this offense needs him taking those shots whether they go in or not. It frees up the floor, it keeps the defense honest and helps the offense stay in that whirring, buzzing around mode we’re all so fond of at the moment. I feel confident LaMarcus is going to figure it out, he’s one of the best shooting big men in the game and, look, if Aron Freakin’ Baynes can become an above average threat from deep then I’m pretty sure LMA can do some damage back there. Give it time.
So it turns out Keldon Johnson’s big thing is driving into the lane, jumping up, and bouncing his body into a defender and then just…continuing to hang out in the air while making the shot? It’s unclear to me how he does this but I’m a huge fan. It’s almost like he absorbs the power of whoever is trying to block his shot and just redirects it down into whatever magics he’s using to stay afloat. He’s ALSO established himself as yet another young Spur who likes to throw down big ol’ monster yams so…did I mention that the Spurs are fun right now?
Defense to offense is a beautiful thing. #GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/oLt9dhNK73

— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 27, 2020
WWL Post Game Press Conference

– So you’re really just going to lean into blind optimism thing right now?

– Until given a reason not to, yea. I don’t really see any other options.

– I’m checking the records and it looks like after starting the season undefeated last season, you wrote on this very website that you were worried that your “favorite team might just be gaslighting you”, are there any similar concerns like that this year?

– Look, I’m not here to talk about the past. We’re focused on this season right now. We’re taking it one game at a time and, you know, now we’re moving on to New Orleans.

– Do you think people understood the Bohemian Rhapsody reference in the second paragraph? Are you worried that people might think you just talk like that?

– I have every faith that the PtR readers are learned scholars of popular culture and, frankly, if anyone happened to assume I talked like Freddie Mercury sang, then I would take it as the highest of compliments.

– I noticed that, once again, you failed to mention anything about the team’s obvious defensive shortcomings in this post. Do you have any plans to address those in the future?

– I don’t appreciate your tone. THIS INTERVIEW IS OVER.

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is off the board, which means the Toronto Raptors will be shopping come NBA free agency in 2021. We explore the top 10 unrestricted free agents.
The Toronto Raptors were devastated to learn that their plans for the 2021 offseason were dashed when Giannis Antetokounmpo signed a five-year supermax contract worth $228.2 million to remain a part of the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Raptors were clearly making decisions to construct their current roster in hopes of making a splash in next year’s free agency. It’s believed that that meant bringing Antetokounmpo to Toronto, which seemed like a realistic proposition based on his relationship with Masai Ujiri. It’s hard to blame the superstar for signing the extension that has given him the biggest contract in NBA history.

As unfortunate as it is that the Toronto Raptors didn’t get their man, it’s probably even more frustrating for GM Bobby Webster who designed contracts to provide the team cap space to go shopping next offseason. It’s why Cheap Marc Gasol Jersey and Serge Ibaka weren’t offered multi-year deals to return.

With the cap space that the organization has created for next year, they will need to remain focused on filling their shopping list. We break down the top ten unrestricted free agents for the Raptors to acquire once the 2021 free agency window opens.

In order to keep the surprises to a minimum, let’s first get out of the way that Blake Griffin will not be on the list. Though he is a player the Toronto Raptors would like to have to play in their starting five, he has a player option that will certainly not be waved. He is certain to play the final year of his deal that will pay him $34,234,964. The same is true about Chris Paul who will earn $39,932,648 if he doesn’t opt-out and with that much money due to him, it would be shocking for him to pass on it.

Another player that wasn’t even considered for the top 10 is Paul Millsap. There has been a great deal of buzz around the potential for the 35-year-old power forward retiring. Still a presence in the NBA, Millsap isn’t the same player he once was.

While you may not find them in the top 10, the group remains strong. Here is the complete list:

To be blunt, the Toronto Raptors weren’t exactly frontrunners to land Giannis Antetokounmpo in the event that he decided to not sign his supermax extension from the Milwaukee Bucks. Be that as it may, the Raptors have recently had a bit of luck in obtaining talent. They’ve had two of the best two-way players in recent years in Cheap Kawhi Leonard Jersey and Cheap DeMar DeRozan Jersey.

Both of those players have been removed from the picture though, which left the Raptors relying on their remaining weapons for the 2019-20 season. Behind the sterling efforts of Cheap Pascal Siakam Jersey, Cheap Kyle Lowry Jersey, and Cheap Fred VanVleet Jersey, they finished with a 53-19 record that left them 2.5 games behind the Bucks for first place in the Eastern Conference.

While the Raptors are surely set on dedicating the next few years to the development of Siakam, they’ll also need some additional talent should they look to obtain another championship in the near future. As it stands, the skill level they pose wouldn’t get them over the hump in the East anymore.

A better portion of the same roster still exist coming into the 2020-21 season, but there are some weaknesses that could be addressed.

Trade Targets: Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Vucevic

The Raptors were able to retain one of their better talents in Fred VanVleet this offseason, but it cost them nearly all of their big man talent. Both Marc Gasol and Cheap Serge Ibaka Jersey departed for LA and are now inner-city rivals.

As it stands, the Raptors are left severely depleted in the frontcourt at the center position. The front office was able to snatch Cheap Aron Baynes Jersey out of the free agency pool, and he was one of the better options that came at a reasonable price. He’s also coming off a career year with the Phoenix Suns, averaging 11.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.

Still, Baynes certainty within the Raptors system remains an unknown. Prior to his blossoming year in Phoenix, Baynes struggled to find that same success with either the Boston Celtics or the Detroit Pistons. With that in mind, Baynes could’ve possibly just been a thriving player in Suns head coach Monty Williams’ system.

Karl-Anthony Towns could quickly grow tired in Minnesota in the upcoming season. The Timberwolves’ biggest move was re-signing Malik Beasley, and that’s just turned into a PR debacle as of late. If Minnesota is really in win-now mode, they did nothing to convince KAT that he should want to stay with the franchise for much longer.

In order to acquire Towns, the Raptors would need to unload basically all their non-Siakam assets such as Cheap Norman Powell Jersey, Cheap OG Anunoby Jersey, Cheap Chris Boucher Jersey, and Cheap Terence Davis Jersey. On top of that, they’d definitely need to give up all their first round picks for the next half decade. But being able to acquire an in-prime KAT to pair with Siakam would be well-worth any pricetag.

The same could be said for Nikola Vucevic, albeit to a lesser extent. The Orlando Magic didn’t hold back in 2019 when they signed the 7-foot center to a four-year, $100 million contract. For Vucevic or any player of his caliber, turning down that amount of money is hard to do. Now that the deal is done though, it may be time for Vucevic to consider the possibility of playing on a higher contender that can allow him to make a deep playoff run.

The Raptors were able to thrive for a good portion of their recent seasons by having interchangeable centers at their disposal through Ibaka and Gasol. Now, they primarily have Baynes to run the frontcourt while having Cheap Alex Len Jersey show up the bench unit.

Making a move for a legitimate, All-Star solidified center could be one of their better bets at competing in the coming years.