John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
The Toronto Raptors put forth yet another strong effort in defeating the Portland Trail Blazers last night and have now won eight of their last nine games.
What is it like to have more than one competant swingman on your basketball team?
That is a question that the Toronto Raptors - and most of their fans - were asking just a short while ago as the team suffered through a stretch in which two of their top smyall forwards - Landry Fields and Alan Anderson - were injured and another - Terrence Ross - was struggling to find his game. As a result a great deal of the burdon was placed on DeMar DeRozan and on some nights, fatigue got the best of him.
Last night though, the Raptors got their answer in their 102-79 victory over the Portland Trailblazers. The answer, is simple: it's pretty good.
The Raptors got quality performances out of all of their swingmen including two particularly impressive nights from the aforementioned Ross and DeRozan.
DeMar DeRozan anchored the starting five with an impressive 25 points on 11 of 17 shooting in 35 minutes. This is the type of outing that has become more and more frequent from DeRozan this season. The most impressive part is his efficiency and that is something that is also becoming more commonplace as other players like Alan Anderson have returned to the lineup and given the club some help on the wing.
DeRozan's solid night however, was overshadowed by the unquestionable story of the evening and that was the play of rookie Terrence Ross who lit up the Blazers off of the bench.
Ross scored a career-high 26 points in 24 minutes and it took him just 14 shot attempts. Ross made 6 of 9 from beyond the three-point arc and was lights out all game long. He was also active on the other end of the floor, making things difficult for whatever player he was charged with covering.
"I have a lot more confidence than i started out with, (just) getting used to everything and getting adjusted." Ross told reporters after the game.
Ross capped of his performance early, nailing three consecutive three pointers late in the first half and then adding another while fading away to beat the second quarter buzzer.
(video via @BlazersEdge)
As he has recieved more minutes this season, Ross has become more comfortable and his ability on the floor is really starting to shine through. It appears, at least for the moment, that the Raptors may finally have a swingman who's talents may eventually allow him to become an elite wing in the NBA.
With the way Ross and DeRozan are playing, if the team can somehow find a way to play those two guys together sometime down the road, the starting five of the future could contain - for the first time in a long time - two very good players on the wing. This is a concept that would have seemed outrageous just a season ago.
The Raptor swingmen weren't the only players to leave a strong impression on this night, the point guards also deserve some credit for the game they put forth.
Both Jose Calderon and Kyle Lowry failed to score from the floor - they were a combined 0 for 3 - but, they tallied 22 assist between the two guards, while only turning the ball over twice and selflessly focused on making the team's offense work for both the first and second unit.
"I don't know what kind of record that is, but there isn't too many times you are going to win with your two point guards getting zero points." Dwane Casey said about his point guards.
This is something that Raptors fans have grown accustomed to seeing out of Jose Calderon, but the fact that Kyle Lowry has now bought into this team and has sacrificed his offensive numbers for a team win, is certainly a welcomed sign.
It is peformances like the ones out of Lowry and Calderon that exemplify the difference in the Raptor team that got blown out by the Blazers in their last meeting and the team we saw get their redemption last night.
Amir Johnson was one player that was out for a degree of redemption, putting up 17 points and 7 rebounds off of the bench. The last time Johnson was on the floor against these Blazers he got in an altercation with an official that resulted in a one game suspension. This time around, things worked out much better for the Raptor forward.
Not to be outdone, Ed Davis had yet another great outing, scoring 19 points and grabbing 7 rebounds despite having to battle with the big bodies the Blazers possess inside. Davis has certainly proven his worth to this club and it will be hard to see him go back to the bench if/ when Bargnani returns to the lineup.
The Blazers though, looked tired from the outset of this contest, having earned a hard-fought victory against the Knicks at the Garden the previous evening.
Rookie sensation Damien Lillard managed a very quiet 18 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds while LaMarcus Aldridge - a man who destroyed the Raptors in their last meeting - managed 12 points and 7 rebounds, but otherwise there wasn't a great deal of offensive production from the Trail Balzers squad.
Despite their lack of offensive production, it was their defense that was the most troubling. The Blazers allowed the Raptors to shoot 53 percent from the floor.
Don't look now, but the Dinos have won 8 of their last 9 games and sit just 2.5 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Granted, the schedule has been much easier of late, but to respond the way this club has following their disastrous start to the season, is no small feat. The Raptors are now in position to compete for that final playoff spot, which is what was widely expected of them to begin the season.
- Linas Kleiza was a late scratch from the lineup with a sore left knee