Following a rare three-day rest, the Blazers host the Toronto Raptors tonight, a team coming off a convincing win in Denver yesterday.
The buzz around the Raptors the last couple days has been excitement over shooting guard DeMar DeRozan's selection to the Eastern Conference All-Star team and frustration over point guard Kyle Lowry's snubbing from the mid-season exhibition game.
A case could be made for both players' deservedness to represent Toronto at All-Star weekend.
DeRozan is having a solid year, and his play of late has been impressive. In his last few games, he's scored almost 21 points a night, shot 40 percent from the field, made half his threes -- he's normally about a 30 percent three-point shooter -- and gotten to the line over nine times a game. Half of DeRozan's shots come off jumpers in the mid-range, where he's decent at converting. He can also attack the paint and score, a good finisher in the lane.
Lowry has played with slightly more efficiency for the length of the season, a 40 percent outside shooter attempting over six three-pointers a night. He had a rough outing from downtown against the Nuggets yesterday, missing eight of his 11 three-point attempts, but a performance like that is the exception and not the rule. Over his last five games, Lowry has been a great ball-distributor as well, ringing up almost 10 assists per contest. Almost half of Lowry's shots come from deep, but he's also capable of drives to the lane. He's not as efficient near the hoop, but Lowry is still a threat to score inside as a heady 6-foot guard.
Forward Terrence Ross is the third wheel of the Raptors' offensive trifecta, upping his shots significantly the last several games. Recently he's hit about 43 percent of his overall field-goals but almost half his three-pointers. Ross prefers jump-shots outside of the key, many of them coming from behind the three-point line.
Big men Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson have also had a solid recent stretch of play, both hitting well over half their field-goals and averaging double-figures. Forwards Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes round out Toronto coach Dwane Casey's frontcourt rotation. Patterson has been reliable, spreading his shots evenly across the court and being most effective close to the basket. Hayes has struggled lately, only making a quarter of his shot attempts in his 15 minutes a night.
Guards Greivis Vasquez and John Salmons have been shooting in much lower volumes since coming to the Raptors in a trade that sent wing Rudy Gay to the Kings. Both have also seen a drop in their efficiencies, too, though they're capable three-point shooters along with the rest of the Raptors' backcourt. Forward Steve Novak, hitting almost 40 percent of his threes on the season, has been in a lull shooting from outside the last few weeks, connecting on only 28.6 percent of his deep shots and even registering a couple DNP-CDs.
The Blazers have been inconsistent the last few weeks on the offensive side of the ball, as opposing teams have cut off the three-point line and are forcing Portland to take contested jumpers. One of the best outside-shooting teams the first half of the regular season, the Blazers have only hit a third of their threes their last 10 games.
Guard Damian Lillard has hit only 17.2 percent of his outside shots the last five games. Over that same span, rookie combo-guard C.J. McCollum is at 30.8 percent, wing Wesley Matthews is six percentage points below his season average at 35.5 percent and forward Nicolas Batum is making a putrid 7.7 percent of his threes. Sixth-man Mo Williams comes off the bench as the only outside shooter on the Blazers right now not struggling, connecting on over 44 percent of his attempts, though his shots within the arc aren't as likely to go in.
As a whole, Portland is right around their season average for field-goal percentage right now at about 44 percent. Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge -- second only to Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony in field-goals attempted per game this year with 21.2 -- has been a few notches below his season average in field-goal percentage at 43.4 his last five games, still scoring over 26 points a night over that stretch. Aldridge also goes to the line over eight times a night, his aggressiveness apparently rubbing off on Matthews as the shooting guard's gotten to the line over six times a game recently.
Center Robin Lopez, usually the team's most efficient scorer, has seen his field-goal conversion rate sink below 50 percent the last few weeks. Backup big man Joel Freeland is shooting well, but his attempts are very limited. Forward Thomas Robinson has also provided few contributions on the offensive end of the court lately, too.
Both teams are great at rebounding, battering opponents recently on the boards. Hayes, Valanciunas and Johnson are all great individual rebounders on both sides of the ball, though they are particularly effective on the defensive end. Lowry and DeRozan also make solid contributions on the glass from the backcourt.
The entirety of Portland's frontcourt is aggressive on the boards, with Lopez, Aldridge, Freeland and Robinson all decent-to-great two-way rebounders. Batum pulls in about six rebounds a night from the wing, with Lopez bringing in about nine and Aldridge picking up a dozen. Expect a potential back-and-forth struggle on the boards as both teams have been out-rebounding opponents consistently all season.
The Blazers' defense has been pretty ineffective lately, allowing over 105 points a night the last 10 games. Portland has also allowed opponents to hit 46.7 percent of their field-goals and 41.7 percent of their three-pointers in those games. Even when the Blazers' offense is playing well, they still have to have impressive scoring outputs usually to make up for what the defense allows. When the offense is stalling like it has at times recently, though, things get doubly hard for Portland and the gap is even harder to close. This has led to a few bad losses in a row and the Blazers will look to correct their execution on both sides of the ball tonight after getting a few days of rest since they last played Tuesday.
Toronto holds opponents in check from within the arc, but has allowed 40.1 percent shooting from outside the last 10 games. Lowry is considered a good individual defender, and DeRozan has improved his efforts on defense this year, too. Still, the ball can be moved against the Raptors and they also put teams at the foul line a decent amount.
The Blazers will look to adjust to the recent defensive looks they've seen from opponents the last several weeks, and tonight might be a good night to right the ship after a couple days of mid-season practice and facing a somewhat-forgiving Toronto perimeter defense. Portland can also manufacture easy points at the free-throw line. Slowing down Lowry and DeRozan is key tonight for the Blazers, because they've both been hot lately. Defending the three-point line will also be huge, as both teams love to shoot from deep. The game tonight could very well be won from outside, and if any combination of Portland's struggling shooters -- Batum, Lillard and to some degree, Matthews -- can turn things around, the Blazers will have an opportunity to pick up a solid win against one of the surprise teams in the East.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter