Gameday: Raptors @ Pelicans, Feb. 23

Title: Gameday: Raptors @ Pelicans, Feb. 23
Date: February 23, 2015
Original Source: Raptors Republic
Synopsis: This Raptors pre-game broke down the Raptors’ Feb. 23 contest against the Pelicans.

The Toronto Raptors look to get back on the right track on Monday in New Orleans when they take on the shorthanded Pelicans at 8 p.m. on TSN.

There are several ways to look at the absences facing the Pelicans on Monday, and they paint a conflicting picture for the Raptors.

Jrue Holiday remains sidelined with a stress reaction in his right leg. The Pelicans are 4.9 points per-100 possessions worse without Holiday, one of their secondary scorers and one of the very best defensive point guards in basketball.

Ryan Anderson left Saturday’s game and will miss a few weeks with a sprained right knee. The Pelicans are 4.9 points per-100 possessions better without Anderson, but he’s a nice depth piece, most of that on/off has to do with him backing up Anthony Davis, and he and Davis represent an impossible offensive duo.

Davis also left Saturday’s game and will miss a couple of weeks with a bruised right shoulder, something that is becoming a bit of a longer-term concern at this point. The Pelicans are 12.7 points per-100 possessions worse without Davis, one of the league’s midseason MVP candidates.

The Pelicans traded John Salmons at the trade deadline. They were 14.3 points per-100 possessions better without him.

Add it all up, and we’re left with only one conclusion: The Pelicans will never lose again because they’ve rid themselves of Salmons.

A week or two ago, Monday’s game looked like a potential schedule loss, the third of a four-in-five stretch, on the road against a potential Western Conference playoff team. While that’s a poor description of the Pelicans without Holiday, Davis, and Anderson, this team also can’t really be taken lightly.

Back on Jan. 18, the Pelicans stole a win in Toronto without Davis and Holiday, leaning on 26 points from Tyreke Evans and 22 from Alexis Ajinca, as this season continues to be all about former mediocre Raptors lighting the team up. They also hammered the Heat in Miami on Saturday despite losing both power forwards early on.

Likely because of the injury news coming down Sunday about Davis and Anderson, this game currently doesn’t have a spread or money line published (this is being written late Sunday evening), so it’s tough to get a strong gauge of how others see this game. It should certainly look like a win to the Raptors, and surely will be if they play like they had in their last four games before Saturday’s abomination, something that’s hopefully just a blip in an otherwise strong overall trend.

Here’s what the Pelicans should look like with all of their injuries on Monday:

PG: Tyreke Evans (yes, he’s been playing out of position at the point, and doing it fairly well on the offensive end), Norris Cole, Jimmer Fredette
SG: Eric Gordon, Quincy Pondexter
SF: Dante Cunningham, Luke Babbitt
PF: Alexis Ajinca
C: Omer Asik, Justin Hamilton, Jeff Withey
Out: Holiday, Davis, Anderson

It’s pretty clear that the Raptors need to make hay on the offensive end with dribble attacks, as the Pelicans are pretty short on quality man defenders. Asik stands as a nice back-end rim protector and a strong rebounder, and he should give Jonas Valanciunas some trouble with his post game, but for the most part this is an attackable defense. When Davis hasn’t been on the floor, they’ve given up 112 points per-100 possessions, a mark that would rank dead last in the NBA by a mile.

The status of Lou Williams will dictate how well the Raptors can execute to some extent, but even if 6 Man’s wonky left ankle keeps him out again, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan should be primed for strong games. Patrick Patterson should have an edge at the times Ajinca mans the four, too, and James Johnson will have an advantage whenever the Pelicans go small and he shifts there, as well.

On the other end, it’s largely about stopping Evans, as the majority of their offense runs through his probing of the defense when Davis sits. Evans ranks second to only James Harden in the number of team points created off drives each game (13.2). Evans only shoots 41.7 percent on his drives but he drives a league-high 12.4 times per game, something that should be far easier to gameplan for without Davis threatening as a dive man or Anderson spotting up outside.

Ajinca provides some matchup issues because he’s an 8-foot big man who can shoot, but h
Real talk: I’m submitting this Sunday night at a little over 900 words and the plan is to double back for a bit more context when the Vegas line comes out and we know more about Lou Williams’ status, but failing that, allow me this. The Raptors should win this game, and as much as no road game, especially in the middle of a trip against a team with some decent pieces, can be called a sure-win, this is a prime opportunity to ensure a .500 record on a hellacious four-game stand. Dallas won’t come easy on Tuesday as they round back to full health and Golden State won’t be a friendly guest on Friday, and the Raptors could use a bounce-back after Saturday’s ugly outing. It’s just one game, but it should be one the Raptors are really up for after this same shorthanded crew stole a win in Toronto a month ago. A win would also give the Raptors 11 in their last 14, and even if some of those have been uninspiring, that’s one hell of a way to enter the stretch run.

Get after it, Raptors.

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