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Game 22 Preview: Blazers vs. Raptors

A Look at the Raptors

 

The Raptors enter this game at 8-10, 0-1 under their new coach Jay Triano.  To be fair, that game was against the Jazz in Utah but the Raptors got massacred as badly in that game (114-87) as they did in Sam Mitchell’s last game as head coach (132-92 against Denver, also on the road).  They have lost 5 of their last 7.  The lowest point total allowed in those 5 losses was 112.  In the 2 wins they allowed 87 and 88.  This has been the story of their season.  Their opponents have scored in the 90’s only thrice in 18 games.  They either contain them to the 80’s or less or all hell breaks loose.  The Raptors are undefeated at 5-0 in the former games.  Guess what happens in the latter cases?

 

The stats have been skewed somewhat by the high-octane blowout losses, but Toronto is staring down the barrel of a sick problem right now.  (For slang-sensitive types, that’s not the good sick, as in, “That alley-oop finish by Rudy was really sick!”  That’s the bad sick, as in, “Jonny Sheckleberger just tried to grope me in chem lab.  He makes me sick!”)  The Raptors rank very low in opponent field goal attempts and field goal percentage allowed (27th and 26th in the league, respectively.)  Meanwhile they’re only in the middle of the pack in their own field goal attempts and percentage (18th and 17th).  The faucet is wide open for the opposition while their own well requires manual pumping.  When you allow opponents 6 more field goal attempts per game and they shoot a higher percentage than you, you’ve dug yourself quite a hole.  The Raptors are designed around a version of old Phoenix Suns ball but they don’t get the shots up to pull it off.

 

One way to overcome this deficit would be by superior rebounding.  Toronto is adequate on the defensive glass but they’re a non-factor on the offensive boards.  They don’t force enough turnovers to turn the tide either.  They do shoot the long ball very well, which helps.  They also shoot free throws better than anyone else in the league.  At this point they rank 19th in the league in both three-point and free throw attempts, though, so they’re not getting full mileage out of their assets.

 

The Raptors hang their hats on offense and they have some potent weapons.  The key to their production is forward Chris Bosh, who has been among the top players in the league for a couple years now.  He’s averaging 26 points and 10 rebounds so far this season.  That point average would break his career high by about 3.5 ppg if it holds up.  The scary thing for Portland is that last year Bosh averaged 22 and 9 but blasted the Blazers for 28 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 52.5% shooting in his two games against them.  He’s quick, athletic, and can score from a lot of places.  He’s the guy Lamarcus Aldridge’s game is patterned after, just in full bloom.  Bosh is accompanied by the recently-returned Jermaine O’Neal, who has played limited minutes following an ankle sprain.  Chances are he’ll be good to go today.

 

The star of the small positions for Toronto is point guard Jose Calderon.  He’s averaging 12.7 points and 9.4 assists and is one of the main reasons Toronto is surviving.  He’s smooth, scrappy, and great at hitting the long ball…an ideal Portland point guard.  (Now why hasn’t anybody thought of that?)  (Yes, the sarcasm font was on there.)  Anthony Parker starts at shooting guard.  He’s a good defender and is on fire from distance but is having trouble scoring from anywhere else.  Andrea Bargnani has assumed the starting small forward role, making it “small” in name only, as he is a 7-footer.  He’s a versatile offensive player as well. 

 

The starting frontcourt for the Raptors--Bosh, Bargnani, O’Neal--reminds me of spaghetti, pumpkin pie, and Junior Mints.  They all taste great, but they don’t really go together that well.  Part of the issue is they’re all power forwards at heart.  Bargnani has trouble keeping up with athletic small forwards and Jermaine O’Neal isn’t in the physical condition to bang with true centers all season.

 

Off the bench the Raptors feature sharpshooter Jason Kapono (currently shooting 52% from long range) and lunch-bucket guys Jamario Moon and Joey Graham.  They’re adequate but too one-dimensional individually.

 

The Raptors will want to key off of Bosh on offense.  They’ll kick the ball to him and let him destroy you.  If you commit to stopping him they hope to swing it to an open shooter.  In this way they’re similar to the Blazers, though they don’t have the Brandon Roy-type scorer-slasher to rely on when things go awry.  They’re at their best when you have to close to cover them.  None of them except for Bosh and Calderon deal well with pressure.

 

Keys to the Game

 

1.  Score.  That’s pretty much it.  This team has shown little defensive commitment and they’re ill-equipped defensively in at least a couple positions.  You will be able to run your offense against them.  If you prosecute it with any efficiency you should reach 100+ and have a great chance to win.  No need for bad shots, rushed shots, or a ton of one-on-one forcing.  You’ll never see the bad end of the shot clock against this team.  You’ll get an open shot or a beat-one-man-and-you’re-free drive before then.

 

2.  You can run on this team because they can’t get it off of their own glass.  Box out on Bosh for sure, then depend on Oden or Przybilla to grab the board.  The wings should be able to get out quickly.  Again this will generate more points.

 

3.  Theoretically if you score enough you won’t have to worry about locking them down on defense.  They’ll miss enough shots and make enough mistakes to let you win.  However just in case…you need to give help on Bosh but you have to be selective where and how.  It’s not rocket science.  Don’t let O’Neal loose in the lane and don’t let their wings loose for threes.  If you can force any of the above into an area where they’re not comfortable you have them dead to rights.  Close on the shooters and make them put the ball on the floor.  Force O’Neal outside.  At any given time the Raptors will probably have one guy on the floor you don’t have to worry about as much.  Take a lesson from what opponents do to us and use his man to help or rotate as much as possible.

 

4.  One way to lose this game is by getting outrebounded.  That shouldn’t happen.

 

5.  Another way would be to let Toronto win by effort.  That really shouldn’t happen.

 

6.  Don’t underestimate how hard they could come out after those rough road losses.  They’re going to want a win badly.  You may have to weather an intense first quarter.  If so, just keep contact and realize it’s not likely to keep up for 48 minutes.  You’ll have your chances to come back.  You’ll have your chances to pull away.  Just don’t give in.

 

Final Thoughts

 

A 3-2 road trip would be very good.  A 4-1 road trip would be fantastic.  This would be a nice bounce-back win after the loss Friday night.

 

You can get some good Raptors (and general NBA) stuff from our friend Ryan McNeill over at HoopsAddict.

 

You can enter the Jersey Contest for this game here.

 

Don’t forget that it’s a 10:00 a.m. Pacific time start!

 

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)