Monday night's Portland Trail Blazers vs. Toronto Raptors game tips at 7 p.m. PT and will be broadcast on CSNNW.
The Toronto Raptors are the worst team in the NBA... without a major injury excuse.
The Raptors enter Portland at 4-17, coming off of a massive Sunday collapse in Los Angeles, where the Clippers outscored them 25-10 in the final quarter to win 102-83. The 4-17 mark is tied for second worst overall with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who will welcome back franchise point guard Kyrie Irving this week from an extended injury absence. The dead last Washington Wizards have yet to have John Wall healthy this season.
The horrible start has the Canadians restless. GM Bryan Colangelo ripped his team for its "embarrassing" play, met with his players one-on-one to discuss the team's funk on Saturday, and then joined the Raptors television broadcast to do a public little damage control on Sunday. Toronto is below-average offensively and worse than Portland (!) defensively. The Raptors are 1-13 on the road and have lost four straight. If the Blazers must play without Nicolas Batum (back) and Wesley Matthews (hip flexor strain), this is pretty much the ideal opponent. Official updates on both Batum and Matthews will be available here shortly after Monday's shootaround.
Update: Candace Buckner of The Columbian reports on Twitter that Batum will not play while Matthews will be listed as a game time decision. Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com reports on Twitter that Matthews participated in portions of shootaround, according to coach Terry Stotts.
If you've grown frustrated with LaMarcus Aldridge this season, imagine watching Andrea Bargnani average 16.8 points and 4.5 rebounds (!!!!!) in 34.0 minutes per game while shooting 39.9 percent from the field. His offense is even worse than it sounds and he's always just been blowin' in the wind on defense. Raptors fans, generally speaking, are four degrees past fed up with Bargnani, who has been in trade rumors already and they are sure to intensify as Colangelo's seat gets hotter.
The Kyle Lowry vs. Damian Lillard match-up is Monday's eye-popper. Lowry is a bulldog and in the midst of his best season numbers-wise, averaging a career-high 16.8 points, 6.1 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. He will look to attack Lillard off the dribble; early foul trouble here would be disastrous.
DeMar DeRozan, he of the new $40+ million contract extension, has expanded his offensive game but still has a way to go to become a game-breaker. Highly-touted rookie center Jonas Valanciunas has yet to have a signature game as a pro. Portlander Terrence Ross, who has found rotation minutes as a rookie, adds a little local flavor.
A few things to watch for on Monday from Portland's perspective: What's the energy level and body language like early in the game, especially if Matthews winds up sitting? Aldridge and Lillard will clearly become the focal points of the offense. Are they able to get to the free throw line? Can Aldridge and J.J. Hickson feast enough on the Raptors' weak frontline to overcome the perimeter absence(s)?
From there, the questions get slightly more depressing. Can Will Barton, called up from Boise along with Victor Claver, and Luke Babbitt provide some punch if forced to play big minutes? Can you make it to halftime without thinking, "Man, I wish Elliot Williams could be healed with magical powers"?
Toss out anything else you'll be watching for tonight in the comments and check back soon for the latest on Batum and Matthews.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter
Hey folks! Ben and I crossed wires about when I'd return, so his preview and mine got written simultaneously! Since my preview is shorter than the norm, it's a felicitous event. Bonus for you guys!
I'm back from my own extended road trip with this brief preview of tonight's Portland Trail Blazers-Toronto Raptors matchup. The game is scheduled for 7:00 p.m at the Rose Garden, televised locally on CSNNW.
Here's what you need to know about the Raptors in brief.
They're 4-17. They've won only 1 road game all year, a 2-point squeaker against the Pacers a month ago. They've played playoff teams but it's not like their schedule has been stacked. They've lost to Charlotte, Detroit, Sacramento...a real jaywalkers row of opponents. (Then again, so has Portland!) Former #1 pick Andre Bargnani has been up and down, scoring 20 or 6 and nothing in between. He's averaging 17 points but his overall play has been horrible. No rebounds, awful shooting, no free throws drawn. Guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have been carrying the team, at least as far as it's been carried at 4-17. DeRozen has been competent, occasionally spectacular. Lowry has been playing a great all-around game.
Most of the other Raptors have marketable skills but serious flaws in their game. Jose Calderon, center Jonas Valanciunas, Linas Kleiza, a chronically-injured Mickael Pietrus...Amir Johnson is the closest thing they have to a steady contributor. The supporting cast isn't bad, it's just not that helpful, especially when the top three aren't the tops.
The Raptors don't get anything easy on offense. They don't score on the break or in the paint. Their shooting is bad overall, tending towards mediocre at the three-point arc. They're poor offensive rebounders as well...no help there. About the only thing they do well is take care of the ball, but what's the point when you can't score it?
They invert all that on defense. They don't get back in transition. Their paint defense is weak. They allow an obnoxious percentage from the field. Plus they allow more foul shots than any team in the league. Only the Blazers have a worse defensive efficiency overall.
So, long story short, the Blazers should be able to pick their way of winning tonight. The easiest way will be to deny easy buckets to the Raptors. Get back on defense and clog the paint. They won't be able to score enough points off of mid- to long-range jumpers to cover for their horrid defense. If you do not usher the Raptors through the door, hand them cookies, and then chew for them they won't be able to take this game. Portland's defense, however, makes them capable of losing any game if they don't put forth effort, as Saturday night proved in spades. The Blazers will have to show up. But as long as they're not brain dead when they take the court, they should come away with the "W". The caveat would be injuries [edit: as Ben has covered above], but even so, the Raptors don't have enough chutzpah to take a fully-motivated Blazers squad in the Rose Garden. Or at least they shouldn't.
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