Game 26 Preview: Raptors vs. Blazers

I have had this game circled on the calendar for a long time.  In many ways the Raptors are a mirror to us in the East.  They're young, full of talented, multi-skilled players, and are just starting to come into their own.  This should be an exciting, interesting contest.

A Look at the Raptors

The easiest way to dissect the Raptors is to just take the obvious things first.

  1.  Chris Bosh is way for real.  He's not having quite the season he's accustomed to but he's quick enough and skilled enough to make you soil your pants having to go against him.  The only way to describe his spin moves from the post is to compare them to lightning strikes.  He also has a little range and can hit free throws.  It's hard to come up with an adequate scheme to stop him unless he just stops himself.
  2.  This game is going to be another severe test of our zone if we throw it on.  Dare we hope that yet another good-shooting team suddenly goes cold?  Except Toronto isn't just a good perimeter-shooting team, they're great.  Five of their top six rotation guys tonight will be 40% shooters or better from the three-point arc.  Seven guys overall on their team shoot better than 37.5% from distance and that's not counting Bosh (who hit his only attempt of the season and technically shoots 100%).
  3.  The news isn't all bleak.  Whether they zone or go man-to-man the interior of the Toronto defense is as soft as baby wipes.  They will try to force you to shoot outside but if you can get near the hoop you're going to meet less opposition than George Clooney at a Tupperware party.
Another key tonight:  point guard T.J. Ford, who gave the Blazers trouble last year, will not play.  

As you might expect of a team populated by Europeans and Jason Kapono, the Raptors shoot smartly, pass well, and move fluidly.  They take good care of the ball and you can't relax on any of them while defending.  They come at you from a lot of angles, figuring you may be able to hold them for a quarter or two but eventually the dam will break.  They're not great on the boards but they have several players who can have big nights, Bosh being the most likely suspect.

At 15-11 the Raptors have been fairly consistent in losing to good teams and beating most of the poorer ones.  I guess we'll find out which category we fit into tonight.

Things I'd Like to See

  1.  I've said this before, but tonight it is especially key.  The Raptors would love us to shoot jumpers against their zone, leading to long rebounds and fast offense for them.  They would not like to see much slashing and scoring in the paint.  Make their centers pay for just existing.
  2.  Assuming Lamarcus plays he and Bosh should be an epic battle.  If Lamarcus can keep close in scoring it will go a long ways towards winning.
  3.  Despite the success in recent games I don't believe we can just pack the lane and dare them to shoot tonight.  We've done a reasonably good job of closing out on shooters when it counts (i.e. the fourth quarter) during this winning streak but we're going to have to keep that up for 48 minutes tonight.  If you leave Jason Kapono you will pay.
  4.  The guy that scares me to death (besides Bosh) is Jamario Moon.  He's quick, athletic, can rebound, and he can finish at the cup if you let him inside.  We need to make him shoot over the top, keep him from running, and not let him dominate the boards.
  5.  You can draw fouls against this team.  A 6-8 point advantage at the stripe never hurts.
  6.  One of the keys to hanging with Toronto is not letting them get up way more shots than you do.  Pound for pound, slug for slug we can probably stay with them offensively.  But we might have a hard time stopping them and if we allow them more attempts we'll be hard pressed to keep up.
  7.  Could we see a Sergio explosion tonight?  It feels like an opportunity for him to get 11 points and 6 assists.
--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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