Hawks vs. Raptors Game Preview

Ben Ladner

The Hawks will host the Raptors for the second time this season on Monday for a Martin Luther King Day matinée. Despite losing two key starters in free agency and being hit by a wave of injuries, Toronto been among the best teams in the NBA this season. The Raptors own a 28-14 record, with a plus-5.3 net rating. Injuries to Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol have dragged the team’s offense down to 19 in the league, but Toronto has one of the stingiest defenses in the league thanks to a deep, reliable cast of smart players.

Perhaps no team in the NBA plays as instinctively as the Raptors, who seem to move the ball and find the open man innately while closing gaps quickly and fluidly on defense. Gasol and Lowry are among the quickest decision-makers in the NBA, a trait that translates to sharp and crisp ball movement. That hasn’t always led to efficient offense without the scorers to finish those plays, but against the league’s less disciplined teams it yields easy system baskets. With its best players in the lineup, the Raptors have scored 113.7 points per 100 possessions, and all three of Lowry, Siakam, and Gasol figure to play on Monday against the Hawks.

Game Time: Monday, January 20, 2020, 2:30 p.m. ET

Location: State Farm Arena, Atlanta, GA

TV: FOX Sports Southeast, TSN, NBA TV

Streaming: NBA League Pass, FOX Sports Go

The Raptors have rangy, switchable defenders across the perimeter, and Gasol is one of the best interior anchors in the league despite his athletic limitations. They execute schemes precisely, and Nick Nurse is the most creative and daring defensive coach in the NBA. In their first game against the Hawks, the Raptors employed a box-and-one on Trae Young – as they did against Steph Curry in last year’s NBA Finals. Atlanta still scored 1.16 points per possession in one of its better offensive games of the year, but it was Toronto’s offensive rebounding and ability to get to the foul line that propelled the Raptors to victory.

It’s hard to take much from that game given how much has changed for Atlanta in the intervening weeks. Not only have the Hawks added Treveon Graham and Jeff Teague to the rotation, Kevin Huerter and John Collins – neither of whom played the first time against Toronto – are back in the lineup and playing perhaps their best collective basketball of the season. Collins gives the Hawks another body to use against Siakam and a play finisher to put pressure on Gasol, while Huerter offers a dose of playmaking they didn’t have in November (and a deterrent from Nurse breaking out the box-and-one).

The Hawks have improved on the defensive glass as well. The Raptors aren’t a great offensive or defensive rebounding team, and the Hawks could have a chance not just to survive on the boards, but to carve out an edge. That will be more difficult with Gasol and Siakam back in the lineup (and Serge Ibaka back in a reserve role), but rebounding will remain a key battleground on Monday. The Raptors also have the second-highest opponent turnover percentage in the league while the Hawks have the second-highest team turnover rate. The Raptors have a potent transition offense, which is largely fueled by those forced turnovers.

That Toronto has remained competitive through 146 missed games due to injury (mostly to starters) is a testament to their coaching, depth, and player development. But it may also be a harbinger for even better things to come in the second half of the season. The Raptors will hit their stride eventually, and the Hawks will experience what a fully-manned Toronto can do.