The Blazers played the Raptors 9 games ago, a game which turned out to be one of our better road wins of the year. Looking exhausted in the first period we climbed back behind a good defensive effort from Lamarcus Aldridge and great shooting from Steve Blake and Rudy Fernandez. Jermaine O'Neal scored all over us but Chris Bosh had a substandard night which was enough to leave us the win.
Tonight the Raptors enter with a 12-17 record. They are 5-8 at home and 7-9 on the road, which tells you they have enough veterans that the travel won't discommode them. The Blazers have been taught in the last couple weeks not to expect wins just because you're at home. With the Raptors looking for revenge this will be another potential lesson.
Before we get to the part about how good Chris Bosh is and how odd it would be to see him play two bad games in a row against us we should visit his frontcourt mate for a minute. Jermaine O'Neal is back to averaging 30+ minutes per game this month and he's starting to rip the league apart as he did when he was younger. In the Raptors' last outing against the Kings he scored 36 points and grabbed 9 boards. "But the Kings don't have any great centers!" you say. Some nights we do but some nights we don't either. We especially have problem with motivated, mobile, scoring-oriented middle men. Welcome back Jermaine.
The same cannot be said for Andrea Bargnani. He has lost his starting position at small forward to Jamario Moon and has lost what little direction he had as well. The Raptors haven't done him any favors by signing more power forwards than any team this side of the Timberwolves, but this guy has never defended well, has always had trouble rebounding, and now he's not shooting or scoring well either. And those are his specialties. Moon makes a great utility energy small forward but it's safe to say this isn't the lineup the Raptors anticipated coming into the season. Small forward could be an attack point for the Blazers except, well... Batum's firing on about one cylinder right now and Outlaw either fires none or six at once. Maybe this will be a six at once night. It would be helpful.
The Raptors sport a couple other dangerous players. Jose Calderon is the point guard we wanted. He passes like Sergio and scores like Rudy. Jason Kapono is a deadly outside threat. In addition to Moon Joey Graham is another energy guy who always seems to save something special for the Blazers.
Am I forgetting anybody? Oh yeah. There's that Bosh guy. 23 points and 10 rebounds per game, quick, a great scorer, has range from everywhere including the three-point line...he's the prototypical new age NBA power forward. He also has a nasty streak to match O'Neal's in that he wants to beat you badly when he can. This is not going to be an easy night for the Portland bigs.
Toronto is losing more that they are winning for a couple reasons. First they were built to be a quick-paced team but they play fairly conservatively. They have to because they can't rebound the ball as a team despite having a couple of good individual rebounders. Their offensive rebounds are non-existent and they're a poor defensive rebounding team as well. With fewer shots going up every one has to count and their shooting percentage, while not awful, just isn't good enough to sustain wins. Their defense is neither aggressive nor accomplished. The upshot is that they're allowing too many shots to their opponents overall, and probably too many quality looks as well. Their own offense just can't keep up. They shoot well from distance and extremely well from the free throw line but they can't generate enough shots from either place to turn the tables. You do NOT want to give them an opportunity, though. If they play you even in attempts or get ahead of you in the extra point categories (free throws and threes) they are more than capable of beating you.
Keys to the Game
1. You know the Blazer big men are going to have their hands full. That means the guards are going to need to (gasp!) help them instead of adding to their misery. Subject #1 is Jose Calderon. Our guards have got to keep him occupied. If he gets free to drive and dish or to thread passes to big cutters they're going to destroy us. Keep a hand in his face, keep him out of the lane, and make him feed the big men in positions where they can be defended (such as stationary in the post).
2. One thing the big men can do to help is to box out Toronto's bigs. If you do that they just won't rebound enough to win. We should obliterate them on the boards and control the game that way.
3. You have options when defending the Raptors. Moon, Bargnani, Anthony Parker...you can't ignore them but you can leave them a little bit to help defend their strong scorers. You cannot leave Kapono, Calderon, or the two frontcourt stars. The Blazers need to know the difference tonight.
4. The Raptors are only 6-15 when they fail to reach 100. That makes them 6-2 when they do reach the century mark. Control the pace and don't give away cheap buckets off of the break or offensive boards. In fact if this team gets more that 4 points off of offensive rebounds tonight you're really doing something wrong.
5. Aldridge outplaying Bosh again might be a little much to hope for but there's no reason why our shooting guards can't make some hay. Roy and Fernandez will be the most direct route to victory on the offensive end.
6. This team has some good bench players but isn't really deep. Getting one front-line guy in foul trouble would create cracks in their rotation...cracks which our second unit could then exploit.
The revenge factor tonight is countered by the fact that it's Blazersedge Night. That means we have to win, right?
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