Game Preview: Raptors @ Bobcats

The Raptors have little time to dwell on Tuesday’s fourth-quarter fade against the Heat, as they hit the road to face the Bobcats at Time Warner Cable Arena tonight (7 PM, Sportsnet, TSN 1050).

Time Warner Cable Arena Has Been Trouble

The Raptors (2-2), aim to avoid consecutive losses for the first time this season and will need to do so in an arena where they’ve had their share of losing lately.

It’s been five straight losses for the Raptors at Time Warner Cable Arena dating back to March 29, 2010. But the Bobcats (2-2) look improved early on this season, including a road win over the Knicks at MSG on Tuesday — their first win away from home in their last 16 tries.

Perhaps more impressively is that they’ve done it without their big offseason addition — free agent centre Al Jefferson — who injured his right ankle during the preseason and hasn’t played since aggravating it in Charlotte’s season opener.

According to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, the high-scoring big man won’t be in action tonight either.

No Easy Stretch

The Bobcats tonight and the Jazz on Saturday are the only two teams in the Raptors first 10 games that didn’t make the playoffs last season. For those keeping score at home, that includes the Celtics, Hawks, Bucks, Heat, Pacers, Rockets, Grizzlies and Bulls.

Given their current struggles in North Carolina, it goes without saying the Raptors can’t take any opponent lightly. But if this current group of Raptors has serious playoff aspirations, they need to capitalize on opportunities like tonight.

How Long Will We See JV?

So what does the absence of Al Jefferson mean for the minutes of Jonas Valanciunas tonight? The second-year pivot came flying out of the gates on Tuesday and used his size advantage against the Heat to rack up 10 points and three offensive rebounds in the first quarter.  

But after taking seven shots in 11 first-quarter minutes, he took just six shots in 16 minutes the rest of the way. Watch more from head coach Dwane Casey on matching up with the smaller Heat lineup after Tuesday’s loss, resulting in less time for both Valanciunas and Amir Johnson.

Keep an eye on how Valanciunas is used tonight against a frontline that will feature Bismack Biyombo, Josh McRoberts, rookie Cody Zeller and veteran Anthony Tolliver.

Trouble With Turnovers

Can the Raptors avoid untimely turnovers tonight?

They did about as well as they could taking care of the ball through three quarters on Tuesday, conceding just six points off six total giveaways. But they had an absolutely disastrous start to the fourth quarter with eight giveaways in nine possessions over a four-minute stretch, fueling a 12-0 Heat run that put the game away.

Rudy’s Rebounding

There’s no debate that Rudy Gay has struggled with his shooting this season (despite doing things like this) — connecting at a .323 clip from the field. He averaged 26.5 points per game for the Raptors in two meetings against the Bobcats last season, so tonight could provide an excellent opportunity to bounce back.

But Gay has made an impact on the glass of late with Toronto going small for long stretches of their last two games. With another big effort on the boards tonight, Gay could set new career marks for consecutive games with double-digit rebounds and possibly double-doubles.

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