Toronto Raptors (25-21) at Portland Trail Blazer (33-13): 3 keys to beating a contender

The Toronto Raptors opened a grueling 5-game road trip with a win in Denver. Now they must take on Western Conference power Portland on their home court, 24 hours later. Playing in the NBA is an honor, but perhaps not always a pleasure.

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Jan 28, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (0) brings the ball up court during the second quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Portland has become a top-flight team at least one season ahead of schedule, which I attribute to the remarkably swift development of their backcourt. Point guard Damian Lillard is a pure shooter, with a quick release and great accuracy from anywhere on the floor. He’s tied for second in 3-pointers made per game [PG] at 3.0, behind only Golden State’s deluxe bomber Stephen Curry. Portland’s shooting guard, Wesley Mathews, sits sixth at 2.6. The ‘Blazers and Warriors (Klay Thompson) are the only teams with two players in the top ten, and it’s hardly a fluke that they rank 1-2 in 3-pointers made PG, with 9.6 & 9.4 respectively. Final note – the teams’ combined record is 62-32. Any lingering doubts about the importance of accurate long-range shooting? I thought not.

As if that’s not enough offense, Portland features a serious Mr. Inside in LaMarcus Aldridge, who leads the team with 24.3 points and 11.6 rebounds PG. Amir Johnson will need all his skills to keep this All-Star from doing serious damage. Jonas Valanciunas can only provide occasional help, as he’ll be busy keeping giant Robin Lopez off the glass. Portland swingman Nicholas Batum is an excellent two-way player, a low-maintenance glue guy coaches are always looking for.

With all this firepower (Portland is the league’s highest scoring team) it’s surprising to note their offense has struggled in their last 2 games, both losses. If the ‘Blazers have hit an air pocket, will the Raps take advantage? A win is possible if Toronto can:

  • stay on their feet on defense. This is not a team to try to block shots against. Any of those the Raps might garner will be more than offset by fouls called. Our front court, in particular, must stay on the floor.
  • crash the boards. Yes, that’s motherhood, but the ‘Blazers hold an astonishing margin of almost 3.5 rebounds PG. If our guys can saw-off this important stat, I like our chances.
  • accept that this game may be a high scoring, last-shot-wins affair. Sometimes even a defensive-minded coach like Dwane Casey must bow to the prevailing wind. Time to show your offensive chops, Coach.

Portland scores and surrenders a lot of points. I think they will shake off their last 2 poor performances and return to seasonal averages in points. That said, the Raps are due for a big game, so let’s call for another road win by a 111-107 count.

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