Game 53 Preview: Trail Blazers vs. Raptors

Game Time:  4:00 p.m. Pacific   TV:  CSNNW

The Toronto Raptors aren't the worst team in the league but they're in the second tier for sure.  Only Sacramento, Minnesota and Cleveland have fewer wins.  Only Washington and Cleveland have worse point differentials.  If anything you'd fancy the Raptors an offensive team, with Andrea Bargnani, DeMar DeRozan, and Jose Calderon playing prominent roles.  But they're an offensive team scoring only 98.8 points per game and shooting 46.3%, the latter good for 10th in the league.  That might be something to hang their hats on if they weren't allowing an obnoxious 104.8 points per game in return.  That may not be as devastating as the 48.4% they allow opponents to shoot.  That's dead last in the league.  Defensive Efficiency:  29th.  Fast Break points allowed:  29th.  Points in the Paint allowed:  30th.  Opponent 3-point percentage:  27th.   Defensive Rebounding percentage:  24th.   Put these guys in an armored truck and a blind mime with a can opener would still get past their guard.  They might as well suit up Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCullough, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson on the defensive end.  I hear McCullough is a vicious rebounder and Thompson has quite a way with the refs.  It'd be a step forward.

What do the Raptors do?  They fast break.  They can offensive rebound a little.  Most of their guys can hit a mid-range jumper, particularly Bargnani.  (They can't hit the three though.  Only Calderon does that well.)  Their guards can get in the lane.  That's about it. 

Best of all for the Blazers, the Raptors play fairly small.  You're not going to find hulking centers making Portland pay for using copious doses of LaMarcus Aldridge and friends at the big positions.  Portland should be able to play their own small lineup at will...a lineup which has caused no end of trouble for opponents this year when not overmatched size-wise.

The game plan should be pretty easy for Portland:

1.  Get back on defense.  Eliminate fast-break points.

2.  Rebound that ball.

3.  Be patient but decisive in the offense.  You can get good shots against the Raptors.  Just decide which spot looks weakest and exploit it.  Look especially to press the advantage at point guard and center.

4.  Remember that while Toronto's players have talent, they're mostly specialists.  Bargnani is not going to put the ball on the floor.  DeRozen will want to do nothing but.  Ditto Bayless, providing he plays significant minutes.  (He's been injured.)  Sonny Weems' shot isn't connecting.  Just keep him away from the hoop.  Do the opposite with Calderon.  Reggie Evans is useless unless offensive rebounding.  The list goes on.  As long as Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and Dante Cunningham can guard some of their multi-purpose, swing-type wings and forwards the Blazers should have little trouble deciding what to do on defense.

The Raptors do have a couple of nice forwards in Amir Johnson and rookie Ed Davis.  Aldridge will have to be careful about getting in foul trouble.  The breadth of the Raptor bench could be a concern in general, but Portland doesn't play a game tomorrow so they should be comfortably liberal with the starters should the need arise.

The biggest key for Portland may be pure effort.  We've seen the Blazers play above and beyond the level of the finer teams they've faced.  We've also seen them play down to and below the level of uninspiring teams.  Someday they'll learn that coming out of the gate strong, building a cushion, and coasting home takes far less energy than half playing for three quarters and then trying to pull the bacon out of the fire in the fourth.  Tonight would be a great time to start.

See plenty of Raptors chat at Raptors HQ.

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com) 

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