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We had a conversation with Adam at RaptorsHQ.com about the Raptors and Sunday's game.  You can check his site too, as the reciprocal interview should be posted there soon.

Blazersedge:  Portland and Toronto are similar in that both lack (inter)national media recognition compared to marquee teams.  What are the most exciting things going on with the Raptors right now?  What does the world need to know about them?  Also how much do you hear about Portland up above the border?  What is the perception of the Blazers in your neck of the woods?

In our preview of the Knicks-Raptors game, I drew comparisons actually between Portland and Toronto in terms of blueprints the Knicks should try to follow for "how to turn around a team."  I suppose that at the forefront IS what is most exciting about the Raptors right now.  After toiling in relative obscurity until the past season and a half, the Raptors now are finally garnering a good chunk of media attention that was generally reserved for hockey, and the Toronto Maple Leafs in particular.  With the Leafs' struggles though and the Raptors success, this has changed.  In addition, the US has taken note of Toronto after a playoff appearance last season and the acquisition of one of the highest profile GM's in the league, one who continues to unearth gems like Jamario Moon.

The interesting thing is that the world does seem to know about the Raptors considering their international make-up.  Having been in Spain to cover the team's pre-season for our site, I saw just how well-known this club is.  It's really in the US that the Raptors are still hurt by a lack of exposure but that will change with winning.  Toronto is the third or fourth biggest media market in North America so there's no shortage of coverage opportunities...it's simply a matter of the team taking the next steps on the court.

As for Portland, the perception of the team is night and day from what it was just two seasons ago.  Gone are the "Jail Blazers," a crew of
over-payed knuckleheads.  Instead, they've been replaced by a well-coached group of exciting young players, who with the addition of Greg Oden next year, have a chance to be really special.

Blazersedge:  The absence T.J. Ford is one of the big storylines of Toronto's season.  How is he doing?  When do you expect him back and what do you expect from him when he gets there?  Also how is Jose Calderon holding up?

The TJ situation is one of the sadder stories in the league this year and yes, a big piece of the Raptors 07-08 season.  His fall itself however isn't what is disconcerting for fans, it's the thought that this type of situation could very well happen again and prove to be the end of his career.  As a result, TJ has taken his time coming back from this last injury in order to be 100 per cent ready to return, both physically and more importantly, mentally.  He's currently rehabbing with former coach/player John Lucas though and hopefully will be back asap.  There's still no set date for his return but many are guessing around the All-Star break.  The team misses many of the skills he brings to the court and as fans we've seen that in various losses.  In addition, by moving Jose Calderon into the starting unit, the second unit, currently being manned by a player you are probably quite familiar with in Juan Dixon, is seriously struggling.  Calderon has filled in without missing a beat and is playing at an All-Star level (check his RIDICULOUS assist to turnover ratio) but he needs a real point guard to spell his minutes as he can't keep playing over 40 minutes a game.

Blazersedge:  The Raptors are in the middle of the playoff hunt in the East.  Where do you expect to end up and what do you expect to do this year when you make the playoffs?  How far can this team advance?

I've had to revise my expectations of this team.  Prior to the start of the season I really felt that this club could compete with the Detroit's and Boston's considering Toronto's success last year, the new depth and another year under the belt for Bosh, Bargnani and co. Unfortunately the team has had injury issues all year with key players missing big chunks of time.  In addition, the club hasn't gelled as expected and Andrea Bargnani hasn't taken that next step.  In fact until very recently one could argue that if he took a step, it was one backwards.  Now I really feel that this is the fifth or sixth best team in the East behind Detroit, Boston and Cleveland and perhaps even Orlando and New Jersey.  The Raptors haven't played the Magic or Nets enough yet for me to really know but unless Toronto gets mentally tougher, starts rebounding the ball better and looks to attack the rim more, they will be fighting it out with clubs like these, the Hawks and Wizards for the fifth and sixth spots.

As for how far the team can advance - a lot of that depends on how the
team plays from here on out.  They've been horribly inconsistent beating San Antonio and New Orleans at home only to turn around and lose to teams like Seattle and Milwaukee.  Some consistant health and the return of Ford would be nice as the club doesn't have the star power to carry them through games.  This really is a TEAM in the truest sense of the word and when they're not firing on ALL cylinders, the results are quite mixed.

Blazersedge:  What do you need to do to get a win on Sunday?  How to you prepare for and attack the Blazers?

The Blazers are a tough match-up for the Raptors.  Portland has a number of long and athletic guys who can do a number of things well and can play inside and out and both in the halfcourt and by getting out in transition.  The key for Toronto will be to defend on the perimeter. Last time these clubs met the Raps allowed too many open looks for guys like Outlaw and Jones and also too many drives to the rim by Webster, Roy and co.  If Toronto can force Portland into tough shots from the outside, they should be in good shape.  However I just think that the Blazers are playing too well right now and considering the Raptors' recent bench struggles, are the deeper team.  I expect a close-fought match but Portland coming away with the W in the end.

Thanks to Adam and RaptorsHQ.com!

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)