Raptors seeing progress, face Hornets next

The Toronto Raptors hope that recent moral victories will turn into wins that count in the standings starting Thursday night when they host the Charlotte Hornets at their temporary home in Tampa, Fla.

The teams play again Saturday at Tampa.

The Raptors are returning from a 1-3 road trip that concluded with one-point losses to the Golden State Warriors and the Portland Trail Blazers on consecutive days.

Pascal Siakam missed a potential game-winning shot at the end of each game so the Raptors sit 2-8 to open the season.

“I think we played really good basketball, for one thing,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said after the 112-111 loss to Portland on Monday night. “We found out a bunch of things about rotations and playing, and I think we’re getting closer to settling in there on some stuff, which I think will be huge.”

The Hornets, meanwhile, had a four-game winning streak end with a 104-93 home loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night. It was their longest winning streak in two seasons.

During the game, the Hornets lost Gordon Hayward to a left hip strain in the third quarter after he had scored 16 points.

Hayward, a free-agent acquisition, is the Hornets’ leading scorer in a 6-6 start, is now averaging 21.2 points. Hornets coach James Borrego said Hayward will travel with the team to Tampa and is being listed as day-to-day.

Terry Rozier led the Hornets in scoring with 18 points and grabbed six rebounds. P.J. Washington had 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.

The Hornets could not recover from a slow start against Dallas.

“Slow starts can catch up to you,” Borrego said. “Our defense kept us in it at times, but that first quarter cost us. That was the game right there. We needed to make more shots.”

Rookie LaMelo Ball had four points on 2-for-8 shooting, seven rebounds and five assists in 25 minutes off the bench.

“This is where we started the season; bringing him off the bench,” Borrego said before the game. “I feel comfortable with that right now. We’ll obviously look different with him as a starter someday. … When we get to that point, we’ll adjust, but for right now, this is what works for us, and I believe it’s what’s best for LaMelo as well and our team.”

The Hornets will be playing a Raptors team that is encouraged despite the slow start.

One reason for the optimism is that, despite the two key missed shots, Siakam is returning to form after early-season struggles. He averaged 24 points, seven assists and 10.5 rebounds while shooting 52.9 percent from the field on the trip.

“There’s some speed up the floor,” Nurse said. “There’s much better movement and connectivity on defense. Just playing all around like he’s capable of … so it’s good to see. Really bright spot on this trip, for sure.”

Chris Boucher has emerged as a consistent performer at both ends of the court and has been effective off the bench. He shot 61.1 percent from 3-point range and had 13 blocked shots on the trip.

Boucher got his chance because centers Aron Baynes and Alex Len have not played well.

“The only bad thing out of this road trip is we only got one win out of it,” Nurse said. “We played our (butts) off every night.”

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