Game 15 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Toronto Raptors

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

Let's get something straight. The Toronto Raptors aren't a horrible team. They just play one on TV. And lately they've been staying at the Holiday Inn Express (tm) because they've dropped 6 straight and 8 of their last 9. They've lost against good teams. They've lost against bad teams. They've lost at home and on the road. The closest they've come to victory in those 8 losses was a 5-point defeat to the Pacers. Other than that and their lone victory over the Timberwolves they've been flirting with--or flat-out jumping into bed with--double-digit losses every single night. It's not pretty.

Four of those losses have come without their "star" forward Andrea Bargnani. He's nursing a calf injury and is day-to-day, possible for tonight but likely not playing. He's been good for 22 points a night, more than a quarter of the team's total. You read that right. If you're scoring more than a quarter of your team's points you better be Kevin Durant and averaging 30 per night. Bargnani's not and he's not. You can just imagine what his absence does to Toronto's scoring chances.

The next guy up to bat after Bargnani is super athlete (and ultra-coolly-named) DeMar DeRozan. You need to say that young man's name 3 or 4 times using Phil Hartman's "Troy McClure" voice from The Simpsons. "I'm Troy McClure. You may remember me from such public address announcements as, 'Please don't throw things at Ron Artest' and, "Whoops! You threw something at Ron Artest.' DeMar DeRozan. DeMar DeRozan. DeMar DeRozan. That name slips off your tongue like a blue angel fish slipping off the comforter."

In any case, DeRozan isn't scoring anything near the 20-point average he posted in the last half of the 2010-11 season but he's good for 14 off of average shooting, a few free throws, and the occasional jaw-dropping move. He's backed up by Phoenix alum Leandro Barbosa who can still turn it on and give you 20 when needed. Together they make a reasonably strong pair at shooting guard.

Toronto's point guards are also decent. Jose Calderon is only averaging 11.5 per game this year but he shoots 48% from the field--comfortable with any jumper inside the arc--and posts 9 assists. Jerryd Bayless had a hot start to the season but has been down with an ankle injury for several weeks. His return is imminent. It may or may not happen tonight. The Raptors have uber-veteran Anthony Carter running third string just in case.

Second-year forward Ed Davis (Who??? Exactly.) mans the power forward position with Bargnani out. He's a good rebounder but his offensive game hasn't grown with his minutes. Former Piston (and former power forward) Amir Johnson mans the middle for the Raptors. He's also a good rebounder and has a nice post game. Toronto brings Jamaal Magloire and Linas Kleiza off the bench as big men. Kleiza's career has fallen off a shelf. Magloire is held together by duct tape at this point. They're just getting by.

Rasual Butler is the man at small forward with James Johnson coming off the bench. Both can defend. Neither can shoot. The former makes them oddities in this lineup, the latter makes them right at home.

Toronto has one of the worst offenses in the league, bar none. Portland's bad nights look average to them. They're 27th in the league scoring points in the paint. The Blazers aren't great in that category but they look like the Incredible Hulk by comparison. Toronto is dead last in fastbreak points too. They're 25th of 30 in free throw shots drawn. Where, exactly, are their easy points coming from? Maybe you could get away with that if you had a dominant post guy scoring all your inside points surrounded by a bunch of deadeye shooters. Cross-eyed is more like it. The Raptors are bottom third in the league in both three-point percentage and overall field goal percentage. They don't even offensive rebound well to make up for this melange of horror. In short, if they score a bucket it's your fault...totally on you. Bad defender! Bad!

Like most offensively-challenged teams the Raptors want to keep the number of possessions low. They'll play slow, knowing that the odds say they'll lose points on every exchange. They want to lose as few as possible over the course of the game, giving themselves a chance to close the gap with a streak at the end. Despite the slow pace, they manage to turn over the ball like a running team. That's not good either.

Their defense is better. How could it not be? On paper the Raptors give up the fewest points in the paint of any team in the league. Part of that is hard-nosed big guys but part is pace. The same holds true for fast break points. They're not the worst defensive team in the league by shooting percentage but their three-point and overall field goal percentages allowed are pretty high. You can score on them if you work at it. They're at the bottom of the charts in turnovers forced so no worries there. They might block a shot but that's about it. They do rebound well on the defensive end...probably the best part of their game overall.

This is a perfect chance for the Blazers to feel better about themselves after a shaky start to their road trip. If the Blazers do not win tonight something is really wrong. If the Blazers aren't playing deep into their bench midway through the fourth quarter something is wrong. There's no way this game should be in question. It's as simple as that.

You might hear a slightly more optimistic view of Toronto's chances at Raptors HQ. Then again, maybe not.

For those e-mailing me about the Jersey Contest, I inverted the scores in the last game. It'll be fixed. Meanwhile go ahead and enter tonight's form. Don't forget that the game starts at 4:00 Pacific Time.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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