Toronto (45-17) have won four straight and 11 of their last 12 after a 103-98 win Sunday night over Charlotte to sweep the season series. The Raptors lead the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference, and that status is partially because they have not overlooked lesser teams.
The Raptors have won 13 straight against teams with sub-.500 records since a 98-93 loss at Dallas on December 26. Two of the victories in that run have come over Atlanta, with both wins coming by double-digit margins. Toronto have won the three games between the teams by a combined 62 points and are seeking their first four-game sweep of the series since the 2001/02 season.
Atlanta (20-44) are trying to claw their way out of the Southeast Division cellar and salvaged a split of their four-game home stand with a 113-112 victory over Phoenix on Sunday night. Taurean Prince made six of eight from 3-point range and finished with 22 points as the Hawks connected on a season high-tying 17 3-pointers while also matching a season best hitting 51.5 percent of their long-range attempts.
The road, though, has not been kind to the Hawks, who have lost four straight outside Atlanta and are 5-25 overall. They have lost seven of their last nine north of the border, giving up 107.4 points per game while being outscored by 9.9 per game in that span.
Three keys to the game
Casey continues to rotate players in Anunoby's spot - Raptors rookie forward OG Anunoby is expected to miss his third straight game with a sprained ankle, and coach Dwane Casey gave fellow rookie Malcolm Miller his first NBA start Sunday. Miller missed both his shots, a pair of 3-point attempts, and grabbed a rebound in his 13 minutes, but the fact he was a net plus-five means he could be in line for a second start.
Prince has the green light on the perimeter - The Hawks small forward is known primarily as a driver, but coach Mike Budenholzer wants Prince shooting from the perimeter more. The second-year pro has heeded his coach's words the last two games, hitting 11 of 20 from 3-point range to lift his season accuracy to 38.1 percent.
Raptors showing maturity by winning when not at their best - Despite sweeping the Hornets, the Raptors had to work for it Sunday as they made seven of nine free throws in the final 1:56 to keep Charlotte at bay.
“I would say last year we probably would have lost that game, but we were mature enough to make plays, the right plays,” Casey told the Toronto Star. “The dog days of the year right now —you can’t see the end of it.”
Matchup to watch
Toronto's bench vs Atlanta's bench - Much continues to be made of Toronto's reserves, who give opponents no let up when they spell the starting five. That has been the case this season against Atlanta in which Casey's bench has averaged 48.7 points in the three wins, shooting 47.3 percent while holding Toronto's reserves to 36.4 percent shooting and 41.3 points per game.
Casey, though, may challenge his second unit after they were held under 40 points for the first time in 14 games, making just 33.3 percent (nine for 27) of their shots in Sunday's win while being outscored 41-35. Toronto, though, still have received 50.8 points per game in winning 11 of their last 12.
Atlanta Hawks projected starting lineup
PG - Dennis Schroder | SG - Kent Bazemore | C - Dewayne Dedmon | SF - Taurean Prince | PF - John Collins
Toronto Raptors projected starting lineup
PG - Kyle Lowry | SG - DeMar DeRozan | C - Jonas Valanciunas | SF - Malcolm Miller | PF - Serge Ibaka
DeMar DeRozan had a string of four straight 20-point games narrowly end Sunday with 19, but he is still averaging 23.2 points and 5.4 assists in his last five games. He shook off a season-low two-point effort in the first game between the teams, totaling 39 in the most recent two matchups, which is right on his career average of 19.7 points in 32 matchups.
Backcourt partner Kyle Lowry has struggled with his shot in the three wins over Atlanta, making just 12 of 34 shots and averaging 12.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists. Overall, he has averaged 15.0 points and 7.2 assists in 28 games while compiling a 2.97 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Prince had a 30-point, ten-rebound effort in Atlanta's 111-98 loss at Toronto on December 29, but the other four games he has played against them have been ones to forget as he has totaled 14 points on six-of-15 shooting.
Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder has not been bashful in shooting against the Raptors this season, going 18 for 50 while averaging 16.0 points. The problem has been his handle, or lack thereof, committing 11 turnovers against his 12 assists in those games.
He has averaged 10.7 points and 3.6 assists in 18 games against Toronto but has shot just 29.7 percent from 3-point range.
The Raptors are 12.5-point favorites, which has come down 1.5 points since it opened with them favored by 14. About the only trend going against Toronto is that they are 5-17 against the spread in their last 22 Tuesday games, but they are 4-1 against the spread in their last five at home against the Hawks and 11-4 in the last 15 meetings overall.
Toronto are also 5-1 against the spread in a game following a loss against the spread, have covered in nine of their last 12 overall and are 18-6 against the number in the last 24 games when facing a team with a sub-.400 winning percentage.
Atlanta have also been good to bettors of late, covering in eight of their last 11 on the road against teams with a winning home record and have covered in 13 of their last 19 following a loss against the spread. The Hawks, though, have covered just once in their last five matchups with Atlantic Division teams.
As the line has come down towards Atlanta, the over/under has climbed 2.5 points to 218. The under has been trending for the Hawks, hitting in their last five road games, their last four against conference rivals and in six of the last seven overall. The under has gone 3-0-1 in Toronto's last four overall and 4-1-1 in their last six home games versus opponents with a losing road record.
One luxury Toronto's bench has created is that the team can survive off nights from its stars and starters. Winning in the NBA without a player scoring 20 points is seldom, but when six players reach double figures and two of them are efficient, as Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas were Sunday, it covers up the shortcomings of a given game.
This is the second game of a three-in-four nights for the Raptors, so if there was one game where Casey needed either his starters to pound the Hawks quickly or the bench to reach 50 points, it would be in this one.
To their credit, Atlanta have not often rolled over for opponents, but their road game leaves much to be desired. They have failed to reach 100 in their last five games outside Philips Arena, and they have held only six teams below the century mark on the road. If Prince can find his range early against Miller on the wing, the Hawks could make this competitive.
But Toronto are firing on too many cylinders up and down their roster to not complete this sweep. The winning streak should reach five with a 108-97 victory.
The game will be televised locally on Fox Sports Southeast - Atlanta and nationally in Canada on SportsNet One. Tip-off time is 7 pm EST.
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