Toronto Raptors (24-7) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (25-7)
Tuesday, December 30
Moda Center; Portland, OR | 7:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: | Out for the Raptors: DeMar DeRozan, Landry Fields (day-to-day)
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The Blazers host the Toronto Raptors tonight in a meeting of two of the NBA's top clubs. Portland currently holds the No. 2 spot in the West while the Raptors possess the best record in the Eastern Conference at 24-7.
Toronto has been without All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan for a month, but has managed an 11-4 record without him in the lineup. The Raptors have been the highest scoring team in the league the last five games -- 114.8 points a night -- shooting 47.3 percent from the field (No. 8 in the NBA) and 36.7 percent from deep (No. 13). They rarely turn the ball over, can score effectively on the break and have drawn more free throws per game (26.8) than all but two teams.
Point guard Kyle Lowry leads Toronto's balanced scoring attack, averaging 25.4 points and 7.4 assists the last five games while connecting on 52.9 percent of his field goals and 44.8 percent of his threes. He can attack the rim -- where he is an elite finisher -- and has a reliable jumper. Most of Lowry's scores come off the dribble, including almost half his threes.
Forward Terrence Ross gets up plenty of attempts but hasn't been shooting particularly well lately, his midrange jumper his best asset at the moment. Ross has put up over seven threes a game the last five, but has made only a third of them. About three-quarters of all his scores come in catch-and-shoot situations.
Big man Jonas Valanciunas has been a mixed bag lately -- he had back-to-back 20+ point games last week, but those were book-ended by efforts of 10 and seven points, respectively. Valanciunas won't drift further than 10 feet out for a shot, and he's a pretty solid scorer in the lane.
James Johnson and Amir Johnson start in the frontcourt along Valanciunas, both playing about 25 minutes a game the last five. James Johnson is a good finisher down low in fairly limited attempts, while Amir Johnson similarly takes most of his shots inside but has connected on just 48.6 percent of his field goals the last couple weeks.
Guards Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez are big parts of Toronto coach Dwane Casey's offense off the bench. Williams is more of an individual scorer, mostly a jumpshooter. He had a 31-point night in a win over the Nuggets on Sunday, shooting 11-for-18. Williams is also a threat to score from deep, converting 38.7 percent of his threes the last five games. Vasquez usually gets up plenty of shots but hasn't scored consistently lately, though he's still a great distributor and doesn't turn the ball over often.
Bigs Patrick Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough are both capable scorers at the end of the rotation along with center Chuck Hayes, though none of the aforementioned players is likely to attempt more than a half-dozen shots. Still, Patterson can step out to the three-point line, where he's hit over 42 percent of his 3.8 long-range tries per game the last five.
The Raptors' defense isn't quite on the same level as its high-powered offense, putting up fairly mediocre numbers in most statistical categories the last couple weeks. Toronto allows opponents to score a ton of points, move the ball with ease and pick up decent shooting percentages from both inside and outside of the arc. They won't force many turnovers and they put opponents at the foul line often, but they do prevent teams from taking easy threes and play good transition defense.
Portland brings the league's most prolific three-point shooting offense into tonight's matchup, boasting a 43.2 percent clip from deep the last five games while getting up over 32 threes a night in that span. The Blazers are the first team in NBA history, in fact, to convert 16 or more outside shots in three consecutive games.
Portland is shooting reasonably well from other areas of the court and has been picking up a decent amount of assists lately, but the team has struggled at times with turnovers and doesn't draw many free throws.
Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge is a game-time decision tonight, as he's been fighting an upper respiratory illness for over a week. Should Aldridge suit up, he'll like the looks of Toronto's frontcourt depth; Not a single power forward on the Raptors' roster stands above 6-foot-9, and the 7-foot Valanciunas isn't typically regarded as a great rim-protector.
Point guard Damian Lillard had a quiet 11-point, 6-assist night against the Knicks in a blowout win Sunday, but he's been lights-out from deep lately, hitting 43.2 percent of his threes the last five games. Lillard has misfired on his midrange jumper off-and-on recently, but he's scored at the basket reliably while drawing over five foul shots a game, also upping his ball distributing.
The real star the last few games has been guard Wesley Matthews, who's torched teams from outside with a 48 percent three-point shooting percentage over the most recent five games on 10 tries a night. He's leading the NBA right now in made threes -- Lillard is No. 2 -- and The Oregonian's Joe Freeman chronicled Matthews' ascent to the elite ranks of outside-shooters yesterday in a must-read piece for any fan of the sixth-year guard out of Marquette University.
Forward Nicolas Batum continued his improved offensive output Sunday against the Knicks, making six of his eight shots and five of his seven three-pointers for 17 points. His outside shooting is important, forming a third threat from outside -- along with Lillard and Matthews -- and stretching out opposing defenses.
Big man Joel Freeland has started admirably in place of the injured Robin Lopez in the middle, but he doesn't get up many shots besides putbacks or unless teams dare him from the midrange. Backup center Chris Kaman, on the other hand, is the focal point of Portland coach Terry Stotts' bench attack. He went 5-of-9 Sunday against the Knicks and has been shooting 58.8 percent from the field his last handful of games. Kaman should benefit mightily from Toronto's lack of interior defenders, particularly against the reserves.
Backup guards Steve Blake and Allen Crabbe haven't shot well lately, and Stotts has opted to give a decent helping of minutes to second-year wing CJ McCollum, who's scored on over half his attempts the last five games. He's also been a great shooter from deep in that time, cashing in on almost two-thirds of his limited three-point attempts. Wing Will Barton has been used sparingly lately, but he's gotten most of his time against weaker opponents or when the game's not on the line. If tonight's matchup is closely contested, don't expect to see much of "The People's Champ." Forward Dorell Wright has broken into the rotation recently, but doesn't shoot often. Forward Thomas Robinson has been inconsistent but makes his share of highlight-reels.
Center Meyers Leonard went back to the end of the bench Sunday with Kaman's return, and if Aldridge comes back tonight, forward Victor Claver may go back to the non-active list after putting in three straight games of solid effort.
Portland's defense has been suffocating opponents recently, defending all areas of the court well while uncharacteristically forcing plenty of turnovers. The Blazers limit easy ball movement and don't send teams to the foul line often, considering how banged up their frontcourt has been lately.
Toronto is one of the better offensive-rebounding teams in the league, while struggling a bit on the other end. The opposite is true for Portland, and tonight will see the Blazers' strength on the defensive glass matched up with the Raptors' ability to pull in their own misses. Amir Johnson and Valanciunas are both good individual rebounders, but Freeland, Kaman, Robinson and Aldridge -- if he plays -- are a stronger group. The point guard matchup is the wildcard in tonight's rebounding battle, with Lowry pulling in five rebounds a game the last couple weeks to Lillard's 4.2.
Expect offensive fireworks from both teams tonight, as the Raptors feature elite point guard scoring from Lowry and launch as many threes a game as the Blazers. Portland has feasted on weak opponents at home the last couple games, and faces a much more formidable foe tonight.
Toronto has been golden against Western Conference teams this year -- a 9-2 record is proof -- but the Blazers have beaten up on the East, as well. Tonight's game could very well end up a shootout, two of the most potent offenses in the NBA squaring up. Portland's defense will be tested mightily by the Raptors, but Toronto will also have to prove it can slow down one of the NBA's best outside-shooting attacks if it wants the win.
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter
(Note: Sam Tongue will be out tonight for his Key Matchup video due to an upper respiratory illness and is listed as day-to-day. Get well soon, Sam!)