Raptors Aim To Get Back On Track In Atlanta

The Raptors continue their three-game road trip with a Martin Luther King Jr., Day matchup with the Hawks in Atlanta at a special time of 4 p.m. this afternoon (Sportsnet, FAN590). Here’s what to keep an eye on as the Raptors try and stop their current four-game slide.

To those celebrating, enjoy the holiday with family and friends. Head coach Dwane Casey stopped by the NBA TV studios in Atlanta on Sunday to share his own personal thoughts on the significance of coaching today.

For more wonderful perspective on the importance of Dr. King’s life and message, read the latest from radio play-by-play announcer Paul Jones in his latest column for sportsnet.ca.

Projected Starters
Jose Calderon (G), DeMar DeRozan (G), Rasual Butler (F),  Ed Davis (F), Amir Johnson (C).
Jeff Teague (G), Joe Johnson (G), Marvin Williams (F), Josh Smith (F), Zaza Pachulia (F/C).

Key Injuries
– Andrea Bargnani (strained left calf) – day-to-day, Jerryd Bayless (sprained left ankle) – day-to-day, Aaron Gray (rapid heart rate) – OUT, James Johnson (sprained right ankle) – day-to-day
Tracy McGrady (back spasms) – day-to-day, Kirk Hinrich (left shoulder surgery) – OUT, Al Horford (torn left pectoral muscle)

Hawks Humming Along: While other teams like the Bulls, Sixers, Pacers and Heat have commanded a lot of early attention in the Eastern Conference, the Hawks just keep chugging along with an early 9-4 record and a 5-1 start at Philips Arena.

Those numbers present a daunting challenge for the Raptors, who have lost four straight games overall, four straight meetings with the Hawks and six in a row in Atlanta.

The Hawks have proven to be a balanced bunch at both ends of the floor (seventh in offensive efficiency, fifth in defensive efficiency) and they can do it with depth as well. With Al Horford, Kirk Hinrich and Tracy McGrady all sidelined Saturday, it was names like Willie Green and Ivan Johnson stepping up off the bench to cement a huge comeback win over the Wolves.

Getting The Offence On Track: The Raptors offence continues to labour without Andrea Bargnani, tying the fifth-lowest point total in franchise history with just 64 points in Saturday’s loss to the Bulls.

Chicago have been a defensive force on the interior and with the Raptors missing their best post presence in Bargnani, that might explain why they took a whopping 34 jumpers from 16-23 feet away from the basket.

As a result of all those long jumpers, free throw shooting was an issue for a second straight game for the Raptors, but this time it was more about quantity over quality. Toronto got to the line just seven times in total, with Linas Kleiza hitting Toronto’s first and only free throw at the 7:14 mark of the fourth quarter.

In The Zone: One of the things that allowed the Raptors to climb back into Saturday’s game was the use of zone defence. While Casey says it still has a ways to go, it certainly looked effective in stretches against the Bulls. More from Casey on it’s use below…

Keep an eye on if and how the Raptors use their zone defence tonight.

Update From The Injury Bay: Add James Johnson to the ranks of the walking wounded as the forward saw a solid night against his former team cut short after he sprained his right ankle tripping over teammate Leandro Barbosa in the second half.

X-Rays proved negative and he was scheduled for reevaluation in Atlanta. Johnson is officially listed as day-to-day, along with Aaron Gray (ablation procedure), Jerryd Bayless (sprained left ankle) and Andrea Bargnani (strained left calf).

Check @Raptors closer to game time for any updates on these injured players.

Forbes The Floor General: Gary Forbes has seen some time as back up point guard in the Raptors’ last two games and looked increasingly comfortable in that role on Saturday with five points, 8 rebounds and five assists against the Bulls.

Forbes has some experience in the role, but admits that there’s some adjustments to be made. More from him on that change below.

Head coach Dwane Casey has liked what he’s seen from the versatility guard/forward, but sees ample room for improvement.

“I thought he did a good job,” said Casey. “He made some big mistakes in our pick-and-roll coverages that again it’s a little bit his fault but it’s more so about not having repetitions there and guarding a great player like Derrick Rose is not an easy task — it makes everybody make some mistakes. But I thought he did a solid job overall.”

Watch to see how Forbes fares against with more time at lead guard this afternoon.

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