The New Orleans Hornets come into Sunday evening’s game with a 17-33 record that is similar to that of the Toronto Raptors.
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has stressed the importance of not taking the Hornets lightly. With star rookie Anthony Davis and most-improved-player candidate Greivis Vasquez playing solid basketball of late, Toronto needs to be ready. Add in the scoring of Eric Gordon as well as Robin Lopez who is playing at a high level and you see why the Hornets have been looking like a much better team than the one that struggled at the start of the season.
The Raptors’ big men will have their hands full with Davis.
“We were really concerned about his leaping ability, his lobs,” Casey said Saturday, when asked about the success that Davis had against the Raptors in their last meeting. “He’s so long. That and his medium range jump shots — if he starts making those he’s going to be off the charts. And that’s what he did that night. We didn’t go a good job of rotating to him and getting to him quick enough but even if you did he’s so long he can get up over the defence and make those shots. In the scouting report, that’s something we were ready for but he’s developed that since college.”
Casey stressed the importance of rotating to him when he’s in a position to score. Aaron Gray has been in and out of the starting lineup for the team while Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valaciunas battled injuries, but it sounds like the team could be leaning toward placing Valanciunas back into the starting five very soon.
“We’ve got to look at that because (Valanciunas) gave us so much,” Casey said. “Aaron was a saviour with all of the bigs being hurt. When Jonas was out, when Andrea was out, Aaron Gray did a heck of a job. I just know for our team moving forward, we’ve got to get Andrea right, we’ve got to get Jonas right. One thing we needed last night was speed and energy. No disrespect to Aaron, but Jonas’ energy, his hustle on the boards, his running the floor — all of those things gave us a little boost in the second half and we need that.”
Casey has been very impressed with the season Vasquez has had for the Hornets. Despite their record, the point guard has taken a big step this season.
“He’s another kid with the opportunity,” Casey said. “He’s another kid that’s taken advantage of the opportunity, the reins have been handed to him…He’s taken that responsibility. He runs more pick and rolls than any point guard in the league. He’s done a heck of a job of running that and he’s become one of the top pick and roll point guards in the league right now himself.”
In a victory against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night, Vasquez tallied a 21-point, 11-rebound, 12-assist triple-double.
“I would say he’s one of the most improved (players),” Casey said. “He is. He really is. He’s knocking down shots, getting to the rim with consistency and tough as nails. So I would say he’s one of the most, he’d be in that talk of most improved.”
With Davis — who is still in the Rookie of the Year conversation even though Damian Lillard has all but walked away with the trophy by the midway mark of the season — and Vasquez, the Hornets’ future is bright. If anyone has learned that games against teams like this can be like playing with fire, it’s the Raptors.