While the Raps haven’t ridden the rails, this road trip so far has been a train wreck. Can this dispirited group somehow muster their pride & salvage a win?
Portland had the karmic misfortune to select Greg Oden instead of Kevin Durant in the 2007 draft, & have paid dearly for that decision ever since. Oden’s career (if you can call it that) was ruined by the kind of knee injuries so commonly found among giants, while Durant pushes LeBron James for league MVP. However, they were fortunate that our GM, Bryan Colangelo, selected Andrea Bargnani ahead of LaMarcus Aldridge in 2006. Their Power Forward has developed into a scoring & rebounding leader, while ours is Mr. Next Year. Portland clearly nailed their #1 pick of last summer. Damion Lillard, a gifted Point Guard, leads all NBA rookies in assists, & in scoring with 18.9 PPG, a number which place him 12th in the league. Portland’s starting Shooting Guard is Wesley Mathews, who is a smallish but consistent mid-teens scorer whom DeMar DeRozan should be able to shoot over. JJ Hickson, an undersized Centre, is hard-wired for rebounding. We’ve had guys like him (Reggie Evans, Kris Humphries) yet BC trades them away, & we keep losing. In the meantime, a rara avis like Hickson become a reliable double-double producer. Nicholas Batum, their Small Forward, is unlikely to play due to injury. It would have been fun to hear him & Mikael Pietrus talking smack at each other en francais.
Portland’s bench (Victor Claver? Nolan Smith?) might be the weakest in the NBA. When your top second-unit player is a stickman rookie averaging 5 PPG (Meyers Leonard), you’re officially sad. It follows that the Raps will need to drive hard at Aldridge & Hickson early. Getting those two an enforced seat on the bench will be the best chance we have. Raps’ guards will need to close out on the Blazers’ Lillard & Mathews, who will fire 3-balls almost at random. Boxing out will be important, as 3-ball rebounds bounce out in every direction.
The Blazers returned home recently after a lengthy road trip of their own, & were defeated by Sacramento. They are well-rested, & will be hungry to take advantage of the troubled Raps. Toronto can win this game; our rotation is deeper. I’m going to try the reverse psychology thing again (nothing else is working): Portland 94 – Raps 90.
Brian Boake is a staff writer for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.