Portland Trail Blazers (23-25) vs. Toronto Raptors (22-28)
The Blazers possess the chance to grab true momentum and a three-game winning streak tonight, as the Raptors come to town for the fifth game of a six-game home stretch.
As the Feb. 9 Trade Deadline rapidly approaches, Portland is trying to right the ship in a spiraling season. Portland is 5-8 during the month of January, a stretch that included a five-game losing streak. But the Blazers are beginning to find their footing again, beating the struggling San Antonio Spurs on Monday and Utah Jazz on Wednesday when Damian Lillard detonated for 60 points. A win against the Raptors, a team that beat Portland 117-105 earlier this month, would serve as a nice confidence boost for a team that has struggled to beat non-tanking opponents lately.
In walks the mystery of the NBA trade season, the talk of the town! The Toronto Raptors. Speculation, intrigue and the Shams Charanias of the world surround the Raptors these days, as the NBA wonders whether the franchise will unload its roster in the coming weeks. And if the Raptors do hold a fire sale, how much will savvy Raptors president Masai Ujiri demand for players like OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet? For all the talent in Toronto, the team is underperforming this season, standing six games under .500, but the Raptors are by no means helpless. Toronto is 6-8 in January, with that record including close losses against the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks, along with that double-digit win over Portland. Tonight, the Raptors are playing the second leg of a back-to-back, falling 129-117 yesterday to the Golden State Warriors.
Trail Blazers vs. Raptors — Saturday, January 28 — 7:00 p.m. PT
How to Watch: Root Sports Plus, NBA League Pass
Blazers Injuries: Justise Winslow (out), Ibou Badji (out), Greg Brown III (out), Jusuf Nurkic (questionable), Josh Hart (questionable)
Raptors Injuries: Otto Porter Jr. (out), Dalano Banton (out), OG Anunoby (day-to-day)
SBN Affiliate: Raptors HQ
Nassir Little. During Portland’s free fall in the standings, some fans and reporters have suggested a shakeup in the starting lineup, recommending to insert Nassir Little for Josh Hart at small forward. With Hart’s status questionable due to a hamstring injury, we’ll likely get a chance to see what that move looks like against Toronto. A starting lineup featuring Little was rumored to be the team’s plan heading into this season, but a rusty return from offseason abdominal surgery kept Little as a reserve. Since returning from a hip injury this month that caused him to miss 20 games, Little has looked anything but rusty. He’s provided a burst of energy and sufficient offense, scoring in double-figures in four out of six games in limited minutes. His 3-point shot has looked especially good, going 11-19 (57.9 percent) during that stretch. Tonight, we’ll see if a bigger role helps Little break out further and whether his infusion with the starters is a natural fit and provides this unit with an extra kick. Also, Little’s performance over the next several games could significantly impact how general manager Joe Cronin chooses to handle Hart’s situation at the trade deadline.
In Sync Guard Play? After a virtuoso 60-point performance against Utah last game, we’re officially on Lillard watch, tonight. Can he keep the hot streak going with another blazing performance full of logo bombs that ignite the home crowd and force timeouts? Can he get 60 again? 50? At least 40? The Letter O is must-see TV at the moment. My question, though, involves his running mate Anfernee Simons. If Lillard pops off, can Simons join him with a hot-shooting performance? It seems Portland’s two star guards are rarely in sync, as far as scoring goes, which may be a big reason for the team’s struggles. If one is hot, the other is tepid or struggling. Case in point, while Lillard dropped 60 on Wednesday night, Simons shot 5-15 for only 16 points. Lillard and Simons have each scored at least 25 points simultaneously in only four games this season and they’ve each scored at least 30 in only one game. One would think if they both enjoy hot-shooting nights, that’d be too much offense for Toronto to overcome.
OG Anunoby. While Toronto is maybe the most talked about team heading into the trade deadline, Raptors forward OG Anunoby is the most talked about player on the roster. Reports continue to come out about Anunoby’s future, whether he’s happy in Canada and what Toronto’s asking price is for the defensive stalwart. Since the offseason, Portland has been in the thick of the Anunoby trade rumors, especially around last June’s NBA Draft. Tonight, Rose City gets a chance to evaluate the popular forward up close (if he laces ‘em up). Let’s see if the hype (and reported price of three first-round picks) matches the talent and daydream about what Anunoby’s inclusion would do for this franchise — at least for another week or so until the deadline passes.
What Others Are Saying
Remember just a minute ago when I said Anunoby might fetch three first-round picks on the trade market? That report came from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Here’s what he had to say about Anunoby’s situation on Friday’s episode of NBA Today:
“OG Anunoby is a player around the league—there is great interest in him at really probably the most important position in the league at that wing forward,” Wojnarowski said. “You know, 6’7” player, two-way player, I think there’s a belief that Toronto could get as many as three first-round picks in a deal for Anunoby if they decided to move him.
“They’ve certainly talked with teams to see what the market is on him, and I think everybody virtually on that Raptors team.”
SB Nation’s Jackson Frank highlights how Toronto’s defense has taken a turn for the worse this season.
Toronto is 13th offensively (Siakam is a really good engine!) and 18th defensively, including 22nd in the half-court. It continues to pace the league in opposing turnover rate. But everything else has cratered and that’s glaringly apparent when takeaways aren’t secured. It allows the eighth-highest rim frequency (18th last year) and eighth-highest three-point frequency (ninth). It’s 22nd in opposing rim field goal percentage (22nd) and 28th in opposing three-point percentage (18th).
The only team conceding a worse effective field goal percentage is the San Antonio Spurs, which ranks last in defensive rating by over 1.5 points per 100 possessions. Outlier shooting luck isn’t significantly afflicting the Raptors either. According to Cleaning The Glass, their expected opposing effective goal percentage ranks 27th. The turnovers are insulating them from being bottom of the barrel. Avoid turnovers against this club and preferable shots are abundant.
Brad Botkin of CBS Sports attempts to sort out Toronto’s messy trade deadline path, taking a shot at Portland’s roster retool strategy in the process.
My guess is that VanVleet and Trent will be moved, and Siakam and Anunoby will stay. That would give Toronto at least two more first-round picks to add to their own chest, which would be a pretty nice package to go out on the market with in an attempt to bring in a star alongside Siakam and Anunoby. That would seemingly be the shortest route to contention.
But what star is going to become available? And would the Raptors be able to out-bid an OKC or Houston or New York — all of which are also armed to the teeth with draft capital? Would they be giving up a bunch of really good players for the chance to become great, only to end up in the same place or maybe even worse than where they started? Go ask a Blazers fan about that.