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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Toronto Raptors Preview

It’s the final game of the road trip.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (19-26) vs Toronto Raptors (22-21)

The Portland Trail Blazers take on the Toronto Raptors for the final game of a six game road trip. The Blazers are coming off of three wins in their last four games bringing their road record up to 5-15. The Raptors are returning from a five game road trip that saw them go 2-3 and finishing with a win against the Washington Wizards.

Sunday, January 23- 3:00 p.m. PT
How to watch on TV: Root Sports NW, NBA League Pass
Blazers injuries: Damian Lillard (out), Larry Nance Jr. (out), Cody Zeller (out), Norman Powell (out), Dennis Smith Jr. (probable), Nassir Little (probable)
Raptors injuries: Goran Dragic (out), Khem Birch (out), David Johnson (out)
SBN Affiliate: Raptors HQ

What To Watch For

  • Jusuf Nurkic. Nurkic has been on fire in his last four games. He has recorded a double double of at least 18 points and 14 rebounds in each of those games. His play has been integral in the Blazers recent wins. However, he also averaged 4.5 fouls over those four games. If Nurkic can manage to stay on the court he will play a very important role in this contest.
  • What’s the Blazers’ direction? The Blazers season seemed to be going south quick. Sitting 16-24 and about to go on a six game road trip with a road record of 2-13 the Blazers seemed well on their way to a high lottery pick. Now the Blazers are winners of three of five on the road and seem to be sabotaging themselves in that regard. The Blazers will need to pick a direction sooner rather than later and commit themselves either playing for a draft pick or for the playoffs.
  • Fred Van Vleet. Van Vleet is making a case for his first all-star appearance this season. Averaging 21.8 points and 6.9 assists per game, Van Vleet has been borderline unstoppable. The Blazers backcourt of CJ McCollum and Anfernee Simons will have their work cut out for them as they attempt to slow down the force that is Van Vleet. The Raptors starting lineup has many players that can step up on any given night, and Van Vleet is integral to keeping everyone involved. The Blazers will have to slow down both the scoring and playmaking of Van Vleet in an attempt to stagnate the Raptors’ 10th ranked offense.

What Others Are Saying

Conor McCreery of Raptors HQ talks about the incredible statistical season that Pascal Siakam is enjoying.

Siakam has refined his playmaking each month, and his assists have spiked, from 3.7 in November, to almost double, 6.8, in January. [Editor’s note: Stats compiled before Wednesday’s loss to Dallas.]

That playmaking has helped January to be arguably the best month of Spicy-P’s career — a 23.3/8.8/6.8 line on 47.9/44.8/69.6 shooting.

Only two players in the NBA have put up those sort of numbers: Giannis and Jokic.

But forget January — take Siakam’s season averages of 21/8.3/5.0, and you add one more player to the list — Luka Doncic.

Ryan Wolstat of Toronto Sun talks about the name Scottie Barnes has made for himself in the rookie of the year race.

Barnes simply beat up the Wizards inside (jump-hooking them to death, was how Fred VanVleet described it). The bounce was back in his step and with the other starters all playing well (other than a rusty Gary Trent, who still contributed throughout defensively and started off strong offensively), there were again flashes of what these Raptors could be.

We shouldn’t have been surprised by Barnes wanting to make a statement. It wasn’t even a week ago that he made it clear that the rookie of the year race means something to him. He knows Cleveland’s Evan Mobley will be hard to top (and that his other pal, Detroit’s Cade Cunningham, the No. 1 pick, is starting to roll), but he’s going for it.

Michael Grange of SportsNet mentions the Raptors’ struggling bench and the massive minutes the starters have been playing to try and hide that.

Over their past five games Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby have been averaging 42, 41.1 and 38.5 minutes per game, respectively, ranking them first, second and fifth in the NBA over that stretch. It’s been much the same all season: VanVleet leads the NBA in minutes per game while Siakam, Anunoby and Scottie Barnes are all in the top 10. Throw in Chris Boucher playing 34 minutes off the bench over the past five games and it’s fair to describe Nurse’s rotation as tight.

Here’s the thing though:

If Nurse’s job is to win games, and with a team that has been struggling to stay above .500 all season, he doesn’t have much of a margin for error, so with that in mind what else is he supposed to do? The Raptors’ rotation is paper-thin to begin with — coming into their road game against the Washington Wizards on Friday night they ranked last in the NBA in bench scoring at just 23.7 points a game. Toronto has had more players work their way out of opportunities — Svi Mykhailiuk, Dalano Banton, Malachi Flynn or Yuta Watanabe — than have managed to push their way into some as Justin Champagnie and Boucher have.