Game No. 35: Raptors 95, Hornets 84

After a tough loss in Houston on Tuesday night followed by DeMar DeRozan’s tweet heard ’round the world, the Raptors had a golden opportunity to bounce back against the lowly Hornets, who seem to have this whole “tanking” thing down pat.

Despite a sluggish start and a third quarter malaise that saw them score just 11 in the quarter, the Raps put together a dominating fourth period, outscoring the Hornets 33-15 over the game’s final 12 minutes. The end result was Toronto matching last season’s road win total of six.

Now here are some thoughts on the game.

1- The Raptors finally won a first quarter on the road, the first time Toronto has outscored their opponent in an opening frame on the road in 13 games (since Jan. 10 at Washington). Despite coming out of the gates sluggish and finding themselves down eight within minutes, the Raps responded by hitting nine of their last 10 shots in the first to finish the quarter shooting 63 per cent and up four.

2- What I was most interested in seeing in this ball game was how DeMar DeRozan would respond after his fourth quarter benching on Tuesday. I’m happy he was frustrated with riding the pine and losing, but I wanted to see him respond on the court with his play, not through social media. DeRozan came through with one of his most complete games of the season. He didn’t shoot the ball well (8-of-18), but did make a conscious effort to attack the basket, looked a little more locked in on the defensive end, and even made some nice passes on his way to four assists and six rebounds. We know DeMar can score. If he can show us an improved defensive attitude and a more complete game over the second half of the season, I think we’ll all be more confident in both his future and the team’s.

3- A disappointing aspect of this game was Ed Davis’ inability to build off of Tuesday night’s performance (career-high 15 rebounds). While he did a nice job of protecting the rim with three blocks, Davis did little else to help my movement of giving him a chance in the starting lineup. The 22-year-old didn’t score and managed just three rebounds and a turnover to go with the three blocks in 21 minutes of action. At what point do we stop expecting him to string together a great stretch like last year and just accept that this might have been a lost season in Ed Davis’ development?

4- Protecting the paint. The Raptors held the Hornets to just 34 points in the paint in this game. While most will toss that aside with an “it’s just the Hornets” dismissal, I’d like to point you in the direction of the comprehensive, which tells us that the Raptors are now No. 1 in the NBA in opponents’ points in the paint. The Raps allow just 35.9 points in the paint this season, a far cry from last year, when they ranked dead last with 47.4 points in the paint allowed. Of all the defensive strides Dwane Casey has made with this team, that has to be the most impressive.

5- A few words on the Hornets. If Eric Gordon throws caution to the wind and actually becomes a free agent this summer instead of accepting the qualifying offer of just over $5 million, this team will be the definition of starting from scratch. Outside of some inconsistent (and mostly unproven) complimentary pieces like Trevor Ariza, Greivis Vasquez, Gustavo Ayon, Xavier Henry and Al-Farouq Aminu, their only other players signed for multiple seasons are Emeka Okafor, Jarrett Jack and Jason Smith. It’s basically a whole lot of nothing, and coupled with the fact that the team’s long term future in New Orleans is in jeopardy, I honestly think I’d take the Bobcats’ future over the Hornets’ right now. Obviously that changes if Gordon sticks around or the Hornets strike gold with their two lottery picks (like partnering Anthony Davis with a Harrison Barnes), but as of right now, this team gives the Bobcats a run for their money as the most depressing to root for.

6- The Tank Nation standings. If you look at the NBA standings right now, I think the eight teams that currently comprise the league’s bottom eight are the eight that will finish their at the end of the season. That would be the Bobcats, Wizards, Hornets, Nets, Raptors, Pistons, Kings and Cavaliers. As the season wears on, we should see the Bobcats continue to separate themselves from the pack, with the Wizards and Hornets likely battling it out to decide the second and third-worst records in the league. That’s why I’m not so concerned with games against Charlotte, Washington or New Orleans in terms of the draft lottery. Where Toronto’s real “battle” will be for those of you who support an inadvertent tank, will likely be with teams such as New Jersey, Detroit, Sacramento and Cleveland, a group of four that the Raps currently boast a 4-2 record against. It’s matchups among those four teams and the Raptors that will likely determine who finishes where between fourth and eighth in the lottery standings.

Raptors Player of the Game: DeMar DeRozan – 40 Min, 21 Pts, 8-18 FG, 5-8 FT, 6 Reb, 4 Ast, 1 TO (Honourable mention to Linas Kleiza’s 21 points off the bench on 7-of-13 shooting and five made three-pointers)

Hornets Player of the Game: Chris Kaman – 26 Min, 17 Pts, 6-14 FG, 5-6 FT, 10 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 Blk, 1 TO