Game Time: 4:00 p.m. TV: Comcast
Well, it's out of the frying pan and into...no, no, no. That was New Jersey. It's out of the week-long paid vacation to Jamaica and into the fire, or at least the semi-frozen northlands of Toronto. And unlike some years it won't be an easy trip, even on paper. The Raptors have won 10 of their last 12, losing only to the Grizzlies at home in overtime and the Pacers on the road. Now to be fair you could look at their last dozen games and not find anybody with a record above .500 save the L*kers, whom they beat by 1 at home. But then you also have to ask yourself whether the Blazers, when under pressure, are playing more like an above-.500 team or below-.500 team. Ouchy. They'll need to play like a good team to win this one.
As always Toronto is led by Chris Bosh. He's averaging 24.5 ppg playing a little over 36 minutes and shooting 16.6 times per game. Even when you factor in possessions when he's fouled that's pretty good. He's a game-time decision for this evening, however, because of an ankle sprain. Obviously it's good for Portland if he sits. Odds are he won't though.
Beyond Bosh, the team has evolved a little from their recent past. For one thing Andrea Bargnani has started to show consistency. He's shooting 47.5%, 36.7% from distance, and is averaging 17.5 ppg. He's still nobody's idea of a defender or a rebounder for that matter. But the guy can score from multiple places on the floor and he's not an easy cover. Toronto's big off-season acquisition, one Hedo Turkoglu, has had a disappointing season. Though shooting well enough from the three-point line he's just a shade above 40% overall and is averaging 12 points in 32 minutes. His assists and rebounds have remained relatively level compared to recent years but he's not had the impact the Raptors hoped. You can flip a coin to decide whether he'll score 6 or 16 in any given game. He's also not a defender. Flush with non-defenders in the starting lineup, the Raptors have moved Jose Calderon to the bench despite some amazing shooting numbers and a respectable assist total. Like Turkoglu, Calderon has been struggling with inconsistency, especially since returning from a mid-season injury. He's splitting time with current starter Jarrett Jack who, while not a model of consistency himself, at least defends a little better. Jack has also put up some impressive scoring numbers, including leading the team in scoring in Toronto's last two games. Rookie DeMar DeRozan has been doing well enough while getting his feet wet in the league. He's got nice size and is a decent scorer as long as he's inside 20 feet. After that you're looking at hand-me-downs off the bench pretty much. It's not a deep team but it's versatile and has plenty of offensive firepower on a given night.
The Raptors' 31-24 record is respectable. Their 21-7 home record is somewhat intimidating. The only bad home loss they've had all year came early on to the Wizards. Other than that you have to be really good or really hot to beat them in their place. They're a team of extremes though. They have the second-highest offensive efficiency in the land and the absolute worst defensive efficiency. They manage the former by being frighteningly good hitting jumpers. They manage the latter by guarding the paint in less-than-average fashion and allowing too many fastbreak points. Outside of Bosh they're not really interested in offensive rebounds. Neither are they good defensive rebounders. They commit and force few turnovers. They draw a lot of fouls.
To win this game the Blazers are going to have to play smart offense like they did in the first halves versus Utah and New Jersey. This team is like a sophomore on prom night: they'll let you score as long as you're not too obvious about your intentions. Passing and cutting will be the order of the day. They won't turn you over, so feel free to be bold with the pass. Don't fall too much in love with your individual mismatches and you'll be fine. On the other end finding a way to hold down Bosh will be a big priority. You'd think mobile bigs like Aldridge and Camby could handle it but Bosh is a premier scorer in this league. You probably have to throw a guard at him as well which means being alert and active on rotations. Remember this is a jump-shooting team so you can't just concede the 15-18 footer and call it good. Also remember that everybody who plays more than 18 minutes for this team except DeRozan can hit a three easily. You don't have to worry about the fast break or the offensive rebound but in the halfcourt you're going to have to move on defense from Second 24 down to Second 1.
This game is winnable, but once again the Blazers need energy, desire, and smarts. We'll see if they can apply all three for 48 minutes, or at least enough of 48 minutes to snag the victory. It would be a great win. This road trip has a couple pivot points and tonight could well be one. Stealing one somewhere on the road would be a big boost. Might as well get it out of the way early.
Head on over to RaptorsHQ for the Toronto flavor.
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