A potential Eastern Conference first-round playoff series preview will take place in Atlanta today. The 38-26 Toronto Raptors, fourth in the East, will be squaring off against the 35-29 Atlanta Hawks, who own the No. 5 seed by two games over their competition (8pm ET Friday).
Toronto is doing pretty well right now without All-Star point guard and best player Kyle Lowry, winning five of its last seven games. However, the Raptors are still in danger of losing their home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Atlanta is only three games back, and the Hawks would have the tiebreaker if they win on Friday.
The Hawks are just a super unpredictable team. A week ago they got blown out by the Orlando Magic one game and then won decisively against the Boston Celtics the next. Their last five games have all been decided by eight points or fewer, which tells us they usually play to their competition.
This is a key matchup in the Eastern Conference standings. Let’s preview and then make our betting predictions and picks for this game, focusing on three main questions.
Will Jonas Valanciunas Reprise His Wednesday Performance?
Valanciunas (pictured) is a starter for the Raptors, but he averages a mere 26.3 minutes per game. Why? He’s a below-average defender because of his lack of foot speed and awareness.
However, JV played 34 minutes against the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday, outplaying DeMarcus Cousins by getting 25 points and 13 rebounds on 9-of-13 shooting. He was able to defend the pick-and-roll better than usual, which was probably the key to the bigger workload.
He will face Dwight Howard today. Howard is a big man who is only dangerous close to the basket, which benefits Valanciunas. He will still have to cover the pick-and-roll well, but Howard’s play style bodes well for him.
Can Valanciunas’ confidence and momentum from Wednesday help him outplay Howard tonight? That would be a big lift for the Raptors, who need his offense on the floor.
Is the Dennis Schroder-Dwight Howard Dynamic Doing OK?
Atlanta’s Schroder and Howard are both fantastic basketball talents. However, both have personalities that aren’t exactly low maintenance. In a game earlier this week against the Warriors, they had a strong disagreement with the game clock running that led to a wide-open Stephen Curry three-pointer.
The two seem to have reconciled, if Schroder’s Instagram account is any indication. But there’s still a chance at another blow-up (or at least a tiff) with unpredictable personalities like Schroder and Howard.
That is not something Atlanta can afford from its second and third-best players.
Can DeMar DeRozan Get More Involved Against Thabo Sefolosha?
The injury to Kyle Lowry has put more pressure on DeRozan to provide a lot of production for the Raptors’ offense. He has done well for the most part, but he’s scored a combined 25 points in his last two games on 10-of-28 shooting from the field and 5-of-7 shooting from the line.
The shooting numbers are bad, but the more puzzling statistic is that he has only taken 3.5 free throws per game in his last two contests – his season average is 8.8 attempts from the charity stripe per game.
He will have to work hard to get out of his slump against Sefolosha, who is one of the top few perimeter defenders in the league. The Hawks swingman rarely fouls and is usually in great position to contest shots.
If DeRozan doesn’t drop at least 25 points on good efficiency, Toronto is in trouble.
Our Preview’s Toronto Raptors vs Atlanta Hawks Picks & Betting Predictions
The Hawks’ unpredictability makes picking this game a tough call. However, I like the how Atlanta matches up with Toronto without Kyle Lowry in the lineup.
Dennis Schroder (against Cory Joseph), Dwight Howard (against Jonas Valanciunas) and Thabo Sefolosha (against DeMar DeRozan) all have the ability to do well against their matchups, even if they don’t win them outright. Here are our preview’s Raptors vs Hawks predictions and betting picks:
- If you look at the spread from the USA sportsbooks, Atlanta are generally favored by two points at home. I think there is a good chance the Hawks win this contest, and it will probably be by more than just one basket. Pick Atlanta -2pts at -110 with Bovada, BetOnline, 5Dimes or MyBookie.
- The over-under for this game is just 201, which is very low for an NBA total points spread. However, I’m going to be somewhat bold here and say that under is the best bet. Toronto has failed to crack 100 points in six of its last nine games, and Atlanta is traditionally a defensive-minded team. Go under 201pts at -110 with 5Dimes, BetOnline or MyBookie.