Portland Trail Blazers (24-33) at Toronto Raptors (34-24)
Feb. 26, 2017, 3:00 PST
Watch: CSNNW; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Al-Farouq Aminu (probable), Evan Turner (out), Festus Ezeli (out)
Raptors injuries: Kyle Lowry (questionable)
SBN Affiliate: Raptors HQ
After a fourth quarter surge that propelled them to victory over the Orlando Magic on Thursday night, the Portland Trail Blazers head to Toronto to face a good news/bad news situation.
The good news is that Toronto will possibly be without star point guard Kyle Lowry, who is dealing with a right wrist injury. The bad news is that Toronto, after falling slightly back in the Eastern Conference playoff race, has significantly upgraded their front line in the last two weeks; adding Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker in a pair of deals with Orlando and Phoenix.
It’s easy to believe that this Raptors team is vulnerable without Lowry, but Toronto, behind 43 points from shooting guard DeMar DeRozan and stellar play from their newly acquired forwards, managed to put away the Boston Celtics Friday night with back-up Corey Joseph handling point guard duties.
With Lowry out, DeRozan, the sixth leading scorer in the league, can be expected to continue to dominate the offensive side of the ball. Though we have only seen him pair with Ibaka for two games, they already seem to have established a solid pick and pop game. Ibaka sets solid screens, which makes it doubly tough for defenders to stay with DeRozan as he works his way around the floor for open looks.
At the forward spots, Toronto starts hustle-man DeMarre Carroll next to Ibaka. Carroll, a prototypical “3 and D” player, puts up 10 points and four rebounds while putting up nearly five 3-point attempts per game. While Ibaka is no longer the DPOY candidate that he was a few years ago, he still provides above average defense and shot blocking and is capable of stretching the floor when defenses collapse around DeRozan. Bringing Tucker in off the bench provides the Raptors with an extra burst of rebounding at small forward, while even providing some flexibility for him to slide up to shooting guard when DeRozan needs a breather.
In the middle, Toronto features young center Jonas Valanciunas, who puts up 12 points and 10 rebounds of this own. Valanciunas plays mostly within 10 feet of the rim, displaying clever footwork and a soft touch, but can stretch out to the mid-range - hitting 43 percent of his shots from 10-16 feet this season. It will be interesting to see if Toronto tries to use Valanciunas more in this area in an effort to pull Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic away from the basket on defense.
Though the Blazers pulled out a gritty win against the Magic on Thursday, it’s important to remember that Orlando is the fourth worst team in the NBA. That fact notwithstanding, it was a pleasure to see some fourth quarter fight out of this team for the first time in what feels like a long while. Portland should get a defensive boost from their bench, as forward Al-Farouq Aminu has been cleared to return from his knee sprain sustained before the break.
Despite Lowry’s presumed absence, the Blazers are going to have their hands full against a Toronto team that is shifting into playoff mode. Should Portland’s late success against Orlando prove to be sustainable and not the result of simply playing a bad team, they have an opportunity to hang with the Raptors, but they’re going to have to run and gun from the perimeter to stand a chance.