Where have things gone wrong for the Raptors?
Fresh off of a road trip that saw the team claim moral victories, but only one actual victory, the Toronto Raptors return to their home in Tampa for two dates with the Charlotte Hornets.
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Nick Nurse's team went 1-3 on their west coast-swing, including a pair of heartbreaking back-to-back one-point losses to the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers. The team's lone win came in a 144-123 victory last Friday in which the Dinos set their all-time points scored record for a regulation game.
There were reasons for optimism on that trip, though, with Pascal Siakam seemingly out of the early-season funk he was in. During the road-trip, Siakam shot .529 from the field, averaging 24.0 points, 10.5 assists and 7.0 boards. His triple-double against the Blazers on Monday was the first of his career and the first by a Raptors not named Kyle Lowry since Jose Calderon registered one on Dec. 16, 2012 against the Houston Rockets.
Chris Boucher also stepped up his play on the road, getting key minutes with Aron Baynes and Alex Len continuing their struggles in their first year with the team. Over the four games, Boucher averaged 16.8 points on .671 shooting with 6.5 rebounds and he played a season-high 32:12 in the loss to Portland on Monday.
“He’s obviously played very well, which is why he started the second half the other day (in Portland), played a 14-minute straight run off the bench in the first half,” Nurse said of the Montreal native. “He’s virtually playing starter minutes off the bench so, again, it’s kinda like you get your chance, you make the most of it, that chance gets lengthened is the way we like to usually do things with guys off the bench. But just opportunity, gaining more court time and gaining more experience with every rep up and down the floor.”
The Hornets come into town for the second half of a back-to-back that saw the team lose more than a game in the first half. During Wednesday night's 104-93 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, the Hornets also lost prized free-agent signing Gordon Hayward to a hip injury with the 30-year-old forward exiting the game early in the third quarter. He is listed as probable for Thursday night's game. After signing a four-year, $120 million deal with the Hornets in the offseason, Hayward has shined early on for the team. Through 12 games, Hayward is averaging 22.0 points on .490 shooting, 5.1 boards and 3.8 assists over 34.2 minutes a night.
Thursday night will also give the Raptors their first regular-season look at third overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, LaMelo Ball. Coming off the bench to play 25.3 minutes a night, Ball has averaged 11.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG and 5.9 APG through 12 games. During a Jan. 9 win over the Atlanta Hawks, the 19-year-old Ball became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double with 22 points, 12 boards and 11 assists.
The Hornets (6-6) and Raptors (2-8) will meet in Tampa again on Saturday.