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Portland Blazes Trail In The 'Peg - Raptors Drop to 2-5 in Preseason

In a high scoring and defence lacking affair, the Portland Trailblazers beat the Toronto Raptors 101-96 in front of 10,900 fans in Winnipeg's MTS Centre. Portland was lead by Darius Miles who scored 20 points on 8 of 12 shooting and Zach Randolph and Juan Dixon with 15 and 16 points respectively. The Raptors' rookies had another good showing as Charlie Villanueva contributed 19 points and Joey Graham pitched in with 16. Jalen Rose led all scorers with 21 points.

CRITICAL BEATDOWN:

This game was a closely fought one until the end of the third quarter when the Blazers opened up a double digit lead. Toronto fought back but simply could not stop the Blazers when it counted allowing them to shoot almost 60% from the field. The Raptors by contrast did not even hit the 45% mark. Many of the shots Portland hit resulting in this high field goal percentage were easy scores in the paint. The Raptors' simply had no answer for Randolph or Miles down low and this lead to easy baskets on the interior for the Blazers. Interestingly, in what could have been a preseason battle between two of the league's youngest teams, the Blazers' young guns barely saw the floor. The exceptions were first round pick Jarrett Jack, and second year players Sebastian Telfair and Travis Outlaw who all saw limited minutes. Meanwhile the Raptors gave their rookies plenty of run as injuries once again prevented coach Sam Mitchell from playing the lineups he's wanted to try throughout the preseason.

HIGHS:

-Hoffa - Sure, Hoffa only grabbed 3 rebounds but he did have 10 points and played with a great deal of confidence. He sealed his man under the basket on several occasions and made strong finishing moves with both hands. He also only picked up 2 fouls and played much better defensively. Araujo must keep his confidence up as he gets down on himself easily. To do this the Raptor guards MUST get him touches on the low blocks when he seals his man.

-Jalen Rose - Rose had his best game of the preseason not only from a statistical standpoint (21 points, 6 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 steals and a block), but also on the defensive end. He was much more active and did a good job playing within the team's defensive scheme. He also played much more disciplined, kept the offense moving and logged the most time of any of the Raptors.

-Mike James - James was the best backcourt player all night for Toronto and he had 15 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. He's a streaky shooter who missed a few easy looks but he also made some huge buckets to keep the Raptors in the game early on. Both Alvin Williams and Jose Calderon were ineffective and James ended up logging 36 minutes.

-Joey Graham - Graham was only 2 for 6 from 3 point range but did go 5 for 10 from the field to chip in 16 points and 5 rebounds. Graham's man to man defence still needs to be better (Darius Miles was simply too quick for him early on) but that will come with adjusting to the speed of the NBA game.

-Charlie Villanueva - CV Smooth started off slow with some unnecessary turnovers and fouls but really got things going in the second half. Early on he even looked a bit tentative and dare I say it, lazy, on a few possessions. However in the second half he was dominant. He made numerous beautiful passes (finished with 3 assists) , scored at will and was a monster on the offensive boards, attempting to grab anything that came off the rim. While he only finished with 2 offensive rebounds he was around the ball near the rim a ton and this is one of the areas that impresses me most about CV. This team really needs help in the rebounding area and it's going to be key to get him and Joey on the glass as much as possible. In fact the Raptors actually won the battle of the boards last night 35 to 32.

LOWS:

In the same token, while CV Smooth was doing his thing...CB4 was not. In fact my first concern after watching last night's game was not Rafael Araujo, not Loren Woods (although we'll touch on him in a minute), but Chris Bosh. Bosh simply has not had a dominant game so far in preseason. Last night was his best chance as he played nearly 40 minutes and on the offensive end was matchup up against the slower Zach Randolph. Bosh started quickly getting touches inside but once again his shot wasn't falling. He finished with 5 points on only 2 for 8 shooting. Yes he only took 8 shots but he simply didn't demand the ball or look to score the way Villanueva did. Last night's game really emphasized how different Bosh and Villanueva are in terms of playing style. Bosh is much more of a low post threat and 1 on 1 menace. Charlie can stroke the 3 and does a great job finding the open man while driving to the basket. The two should be able to play effectively together although right now they don't seem comfortable. Both become the focal points on offense when they're in the game seperately and therefore need some time to adjust to playing together.

Loren Woods - Oh Loren...where to begin. I don't fault Loren for not being able to guard Zach Randolph or Theo Ratlif down low...he's just not strong enough. However it's mind boggling that a player over 7 feet only grabs 3 rebounds in a game. It would be one thing if Loren were an offensive threat but he just simply can't finish either alone OR in traffic. And confidence just isn't an excuse anymore...this isn't Hoffa, barely a second year player. This will be Loren's 5th year in the league and he's simply got to start playing better if the Raptors want to be able to compete.

- Sloppy Play - Near the end of the second quarter and for parts of the third and fourth, the Raptors simply did not do a good job on either end of the court. The offense was not run effectively and the defensive effort simply wasn't present. Allowing a team to shoot almost 60%, especially a team like Portland with no real snipers outside of Juan Dixon, is inexcusible. In the same token, Ruben Patterson can not be jab stepping his way past Chris Bosh inside for easy dunks. Point being, defense is played as a team and has to start from the middle and extend to the perimeter.

The Raptors face the TrailBlazers in Portland tomorrow night to finish off their preseason schedule. It will be interesting to see what adjustments the Raptors make especially on the interior and the defensive end and hopefully Toronto can finish the preseason on a winning note.

FRANCHISE