The Blazers continue their Eastern Conference road swing this morning against the Toronto Raptors, and this game presents a good opportunity for Portland to bolster its record a bit before they enter a tougher stretch of the schedule later on in the month.
Offensively, the Raptors only do a few things well: they get to the free-throw line often, they rebound and they hold onto the ball. Outside of those areas, Toronto doesn't seem to have much else going for them.
Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan are basically a two-man show for the Raptors. Together, they attempt almost half of their team's shots. Guard Kyle Lowry pulls in a decent amount of assists, but there is almost no solid ball movement for this team. The ball is usually given to either Gay or DeRozan and they're relied upon to create the offense for the Raptors. So far, Toronto has managed to tally the fewest amount of assists for any team in the NBA, a clear indicator that their ball movement leaves much to be desired.
Portland prevents other teams from picking up very many assists, so don't be surprised to see Gay and DeRozan playing iso ball all game long, because they're not sharing the ball very well anyway. The Blazers' wings -- Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Dorell Wright and whoever's playing off the ball between Mo Williams and Damian Lillard when they're on the court together -- will be tasked with slowing down Gay and DeRozan. Both players prefer to shoot within the three-point line, though neither is particularly efficient at scoring.
Oddly enough, when these two volume scorers take fewer attempts -- limited to about 15 a piece -- the Raptors have a better chance of winning ball games. When these guys take a ton of shots and stall out their team's offense, though, they are far less likely to win. Toronto's not a great three-point shooting team, but they do have some decent individual long-distance shooters; Gay, DeRozan, Lowry and forward Quincy Acy all shoot at least 37.5 percent from deep. Because of their lack of ball movement, however, the Raptors don't see very many good three-point opportunities, and thus rely on less efficient shots. In fact, over half of their points come off of unassisted field-goals. Contrast that with Portland, a decent passing team that only sees unassisted shots account for about 41 percent of its offense.
The rest of the team's shot attempts are taken by guard Terrence Ross, forwards Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough and Landry Fields and center Jonas Valanciunas, but none of them attempts even half the shots that Gay and DeRozan do. The Raptors seem pretty content hitching their wagon to this inefficient duo, and that's reflected in their 4-6 record which contains zero wins over teams above .500. Toronto's offense is just not working well, and for some reason coach Dwane Casey hasn't gone back to the drawing board yet to fix his team's poor offensive performance. The Blazers won't have to force much on defense, because the Raptors get in their own way enough. The only worry would be allowing Toronto to stay in the game by giving up rebounds on their end of the floor and allowing them to get to the line. Other than that, Portland can probably watch Gay and DeRozan shoot their team right out of the game with selfish play and inefficient jumpers.
On the other end of the floor, the Raptors are easier to stomach, but they're still not great. They prevent the fast break and don't allow too many points from outside the arc. They don't defend the paint well or prevent teams from finding open shooters. They foul a ton, don't get many blocks or steals and don't force very many turnovers.
The Blazers, on the other hand, are actually a pretty efficient shooting team. This can be attributed to their success from three-point range and the solid shooting from the majority of players in coach Terry Stotts' usual rotation. Lillard is not finishing very well this season, but he's mostly offsetting his poor scoring closer to the hoop by shooting the lights out from downtown. Portland also has a few players to rely on for keeping the offense flowing in Lillard, Batum and Mo Williams. The penetration and kick-out from Williams has been a consistent factor in Portland's offense, and if he continues to improve his shooting -- he hasn't shot below 50 percent in his last four games -- the Blazers will be even more deadly.
The Raptors do have some pesky post defenders in Johnson and Hansbrough, so it could be a bit difficult for LaMarcus Aldridge to get things going. Still, his mid-range game is almost always difficult for opposing power forwards to account for, and he'll get his looks over this Raptors defense. Aldridge's rebounding can swing games in the Blazers' favor, and he's going to have to work hard for them tonight because Toronto does crash the boards. If Aldridge has ten or more rebounds, you'll know he's working extra hard on the glass (along with fellow big men Robin Lopez, Thomas Robinson and Joel Freeland) against a Raptors squad that usually rebounds pretty well and good things are likely to happen. If he and the rest of Portland's bigs play passively in the rebounding department, Toronto could hang around in a game they probably have no business winning. The rebounding-by-committee approach will have to continue for Portland, and if they execute it solidly, they'll be in a great position to pick up a win.
The Blazers live and die by the three-pointer and on the boards. When they do well at both, they almost always win. When they do neither well, though, they have a rough time pulling out wins. The shots will be there tonight, but the rebounds will only come via effort. If the Blazers come out flat, missing threes and allowing Toronto to clean up the glass, it will be difficult to pick up a win. If Portland hits shots and grabs the Raptors' misses -- and there should be plenty of those to go around -- they can head into Brooklyn tomorrow night riding a six-game winning streak and ready to pounce on an underachieving Nets team.
-- Chris Lucia | Twitter