Raptors hope break didn’t stifle momentum, host Pelicans

The Toronto Raptors aim to pick up where they left off at the All-Star break when they play the visiting New Orleans Pelicans Thursday night.

The Raptors have won two straight and five of their past six games, and will complete a five-game homestand on Thursday.

The Pelicans will be out to turn around their recent struggles after dropping two of their past three games, including a 120-102 road loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 15.

“Just didn’t play with a lot of force,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “When you don’t play with a lot of force on both ends of the floor, you’re not creating deflections, turnovers. Teams are knocking down shots. And now you’re playing against a set defense over and over again.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have a game for seven or eight days. We’ll have to live with this one for a while. Then we’ll pick it back up and keep going.”

The Raptors entered the break with a 123-113 victory over the Orlando Magic on Feb. 14. Jakob Poeltl, acquired before the trade deadline from the San Antonio Spurs, had 30 points, nine rebounds and six blocked shots in his third game and second start with Toronto.

The Raptors will likely have some injured players back in the lineup against the Pelicans.

O.G. Anunoby (sprained wrist), who missed the nine games leading into the break, is expected to return to the lineup with Gary Trent Jr. (calf strain), who missed the past two games, and Thaddeus Young (knee strain), who left the game against the Lakers.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse said they looked “good, healthy and ready to go.”

He has yet to determine who will start against the Pelicans.

“We’ll look at it,” Nurse said. “We’ve got some decisions to make, but they’re good decisions.”

The Raptors entered the break 10th in the Eastern Conference, the final play-in spot. They are two games ahead of the Chicago Bulls and 4 1/2 games behind the sixth-place New York Knicks.

The Pelicans entered the break seventh in the Western Conference with star forward Zion Williamson (hamstring strain) sidelined for several more weeks.

“We’ll be fine,” Pelicans guard CJ McCollum said before the break. “But this will be a nice chance for us to reset and rest our bodies and come out and sprint the rest of the season. It’s not the halfway point. There are only 23 games left. We’ll be playing a lot of teams that are competing for playoff spots. We have to be ready to play.”

The Pelicans have 12 more games on the road, where they are 10-19.

“We have to start the game better,” Green said. “Can’t dig yourself in a hole, especially on another team’s home floor. Then you have to maintain it. That’s just execution across the board, which we were poor at (against the Lakers).”

At the trade deadline, the Pelicans sent Devonte’ Graham to San Antonio for Josh Richardson.

The Pelicans won at home, 126-108, against the Raptors on Nov. 30.

–Field Level Media