April 16, 2012; Toronto, ON, CANADA; Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith (5) goes to pass the ball as Toronto Raptors guard-forward Alan Anderson (6) tries to get back in the play at the Air Canada Centre. Atlanta defeated Toronto 109-87. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Hawks vs Raptors: Game Preview

The Toronto Raptors were picked by many to be a darkhouse candidate to slip in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Although those hopes are not completely dashed, it will take a second half surge to make that happen.

Like the Hawks with Josh Smith, the Raptors are in the midst of trade rumors that, if confirmed, would bring Rudy Gay above the border. The Raptors are in the need of a building block, regardless of if Gay is that block. Toronto has only 3 playoff wins since 2002 and only one postseason series victory in their 18 seasons of existence.

This season’s Canadian collection of players has had a rollercoaster of highs and low. Former #1 overall draft pick Andrea Bargnani has drawn the ire of many Raptors fans for his poor play coupled with his large salary. In between a multitude of injuries, he is shooting extremely poorly and doesn’t contribute much in any other areas. Bargnani, Linas Kleiza, and last year’s #5 overall draft pick Jonas Valanciunas have been ruled out for tonight’s match. Point guard Kyle Lowry and wing Landry Fields are questionable for tonight as well.

The Atlanta Hawks may finally be returning a piece that can help fill the void left by the ACL injury to Lou Williams. Anthony Morrow has been declared active for tonight’s game and may provide much needed offensive punch for an inconsistent Hawks team as of late.

The Raptors rely on the backcourt duo of DeMar DeRozan and Jose Calderon to lead the team. Calderon is an extremely underrated point guard with adept passing skills, a killer floater, and fantastic shooting numbers (.594 TS%, .569 eFG%). He leads the team that owns the second best offensive turnover rate with a blistering 4.35 assist to turnover ratio. Because of his poor defense is someone to take add vantage when the Hawks are on offense, but defensively, Jeff Teague and Devin Harris must slow down his penetration and cut off his passing lanes.

DeMar DeRozan does the bulk of the scoring on a nightly basis, mostly out of need. He averages 17.3 points in 37 minutes per game, but has yet to truly refine his jump shooting. As a result, his eFG% (.450) is 40 points lower than league average. The Raptors also have a pair of rebounding fiends in Ed Davis and Amir Johnson. Both are fearless glass crashers, so Al Horford, Josh Smith and Zaza Pachulia will have their hands full containing them.

Because of the injuries to Raptors, there is really no reason to lose this game. Toronto will have to rely on their depth to save them. This season’s first round pick, Terrence Ross, has high-flying ability and has performed well in his first NBA season. Alan Anderson is a former D-League standout that has the ability to slash to the basket.

If the Hawks can come close to replicating their output in Madison Square Garden Sunday, the victory will be assured. Toronto has a young and undermanned roster and as a result, very poor defense (25th in defensive efficiency). A lot of this is due to allowing teams to shoot the most free throws per possession, an area in which the Hawk struggle. If Atlanta can be aggressive and attack the Raptors interior, they should leave with an easy win.

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