The Portland Trail Blazers visit the Air Canada Centre riding a 5-game winning streak. Among their impressive wins to date is the only defeat anyone’s laid on the San Antonio Spurs. Last year’s Rookie of the Year, Damian Lillard, is picking up where he left off, averaging over 19 points and 5 assists PG [per game]. LaMarcus Aldridge (to think Bryan Colangelo selected Andrea Bargnani over this guy!) is one of the most consistent producers among big men in the NBA. He leads his team in points and rebounds.
The Toronto Raptors, with the notable exception of DeMar DeRozan, turned in a miserable performance on Friday night against Chicago, and will need to re-discover their game to have any chance in this match. A win is unlikely, but could happen if the Raps:
- Defend the 3-ball. This team is the opposite of the Bulls; the Blazers love to shoot from distance. They sport a gaudy 41.3%, so why not fire away? Portland will move the ball ceaselessly in order to find Lillard, Nicholas Batum or Wesley Mathews (where did he come from? He’s 21 of 42 from deep) open beyond the arc. Our defenders will need to stay grounded, anticipate the pass and close out on the shooter without fouling…it’s a tall order.
- Get a better performance from our second unit. It’s hard to imagine how they could be worse than Friday night’s dreadful effort, so let’s assume that will happen. Portland’s second string is led by the useful veteran guard Mo Williams, whom I wish the Raps had signed as a free agent. However, the Blazers also deploy such dubious talents as Victor Claver and Joel Freeland, so they can be outgunned if Tyler Hansbrough, Terrence Ross and the rest actually show up to work.
- Keep Jonas Valanciunas in the game. JV has hurt his own cause by taking too many silly fouls on moving screens and loose balls. If he’s going to foul, and he will, let it be for trying to block an Aldridge shot. JV can score against Aldridge, who’s barely mediocre as a defender, but he can’t if he’s sitting down after collecting 3 fouls before intermission.
Last year I was guilty of occasional homer-ism. I’m going to maintain my objectivity this season. The Raps’ performance on Friday was so poor that it’s pushing plausibility beyond the breaking point to think they can bounce back to defeat an even stronger team. While I hope I’m wrong, I think Portland knows how to win, and will close out Toronto late. Make the final Blazers 99 – Raps 95.
We might see: Julyan Stone trying to neutralize Lillard…Raps play old-fashioned box-&-1 zone defense to inhibit Portland long balls…more Steve Novak.
Brian Boake is Senior Editor 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.
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