Game Time: 7:00 p.m. Pacific TV: CSNNW
With the departure of Chris Bosh for tanner pastures the Toronto Raptors fit a increasingly common profile among NBA teams: OCM, or Offensively Competent Mediocrity. They've got talent on the offensive side of the ball. Andrea Bargnani, now manning the starting center position, has blossomed into the scorer his talent has promised, averaging 24 ppg so far this season. He shoots 47% from the field, 58% from the arc (and he does attempt them), and 85% from the line on nearly 7 attempts per game. He's tall, mobile, and can handle the ball...a bad matchup all around. Sophomore Demar DeRozan adds 16 points per game. Point guard Jarrett Jack and forward Linas Kleiza can both score a little. Toronto's 6th man, shooting guard Sonny Weems, is known for nothing but his scoring and their 7th, point guard Jose Calderon, is an offensive-minded player as well.
1. These guys haven't learned to play together yet. Bargnani and DeRozan are shooting great. Weems is shooting well. Everybody else in this offensive bunch ranges from poor to horrible. It's not that they're selfish. They just don't know how to set each other up or how to exploit defenses as a team unless the opening is obvious.
2. Even when they do learn to play together, many of these guys bring nothing else to the table. Who sets picks? Who rebounds? (The answer to both is starting forward Reggie Evans but he's just one guy, however productive.) Who sees the floor and sets up his teammates? And who in this lineup defends? Of their higher-minute players only Jack and Evans approach respectability. Everyone else from Bargnani to Leandro Barbosa is a soggy Kleenex on "D". And if they're not playing as a unit on offense you know they're not going to band together on defense. What you see is what you get most possessions. That ain't good.
That lack of reliable defense, passing, rebounding power, or anything except the occasional ability to score goes a long way towards explaining Toronto's 1-4 record plus them giving up 111 to the Kings and 125 to the Jazz in consecutive games. If you trade on offense alone it had better be amazing. The Raptors' isn't. They won't stink this year but they'll have trouble beating teams above their talent level.
Being well above Toronto's talent level at this point the Blazers would have to come out with a real stinker of a game to lose. In fact it's easier to describe the ways they could lose than the ways they'll probably win. If they aren't mobile on defense, getting out to cover the Raptors' bigger shooters and staying in front of their smaller drivers, the Blazers will have trouble. If they pay no attention to the boards at all the Blazers will have trouble. If they are content to shoot from the perimeter off the dribble the Blazers will have trouble. If LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum disappear and Rudy Fernandez and Wesley Matthews can't hit a shot the Blazers will have trouble. If they turn the ball over or don't get back to stop fast breaks the Blazers will have trouble. But all of this is pretty much Junior Varsity level basics. We have seen stretches where Portland has done each of these things. Admittedly there's danger coming off of an emotional loss and playing a lesser opponent. Nevertheless, the Blazers should win this game and it shouldn't be close. If they don't--knowing about the loss on Thursday and tomorrow's game against the Lakers in L.A.--you have to start asking questions about their pride and determination. There are no must-wins in November, but this game is a "better win" because of the schedule.
The script has Portland stomping on the Raptors early, letting the second unit guys get a long workout, and keeping everybody fresh for Sunday. We'll see if they're able to pull it off.
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Read a slightly-more-optimistic view of the Raptors at Raptors HQ.