In a month where the 9-11 Los Angeles Lakers are getting booed off of their homecourt for seven point losses, the Toronto Raptors are casually sitting with a 1-13 record away from home, finishing up their five-game west coast road trip against the Trailblazers.
In a perfect Raptor fantasyland, if games ranged over three quarters, the potential for closing out tight victories could've been that much higher for the Raps'...unfortunately, there's always that volatile fourth quarter.
Keeping the game relatively close throughout the first three quarters, then being outscored by the Clippers' second unit, 25-10 in the fourt,h felt like a rerun of a broken record that the Raps refuse to change.
Tonight, the Dinos get their first-look at standout rookie sensation Damian Lillard and his 8-12 Blazers after their 19-point loss to the Sacremento Kings on Saturday.
For a Blazer team that is by far the worst in the league on the bench, getting only 14.9 points from their reserves, they haven't outscored their opposition once this season. With primary Blazers' swingmen Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews nursing injuries suffered in the defeat, the opportunity for the Raptors backcourt to capitalize on their opposition's lack of depth couldn't have come at a better time.
With that said, this match-up is by no means a cakewalk. Hell, there's no such thing as cakewalks for the Raps' this season it seems. Being a witness of LaMarcus Aldridge's dismantling of the Raptors' interior last season at the ACC, where he notched 33 & a career-high 23 rebounds, there's no telling how the Dinos will respond to their test tonight.
Without further delay, here are the three keys to avoid a winless five-game road swing:
1) Contain the Interior/ Win the Battle of the Boards: Coming off of a breakout season and being considered as one of last year's biggest All-Star snubs, Aldridge has emerged as the face of his the Blazers franchise. Limiting his, along with J.J. Hickson's, opportunities on the offensive glass, can be the difference in coming home with nothing to show for or in reaching the fifth win of the season.
2) Isolate Aldridge's attempts: Considering the highly likely absence of effective swingmen Batum & Matthews for the Blazers, the likelihood of Lillard driving and dishing without those two on the floor will be lower than usual. The focus will defensively should rest in the frontcourt, and when I say frontcourt, I mean on Aldridge's attempts around the basket. He's averaged 28.5points and 13.8 boards in his last four meetings with the Dinos. Yuck.
3) Resiliency: Fortunate enough for the Raptors, they've demonstrated spurts where they've come across as resilient and mentally strong as a squad, unfortunately the majority of that has come within the first few quarters and not the last. Taking advantage of the Blazers' lackluster bench will ultimately play as the key factor in pulling this victory out. Being desperate is an understatement at this point of the year, and the fact that the Raps' have dropped eight of their last nine trips to Portland doesn't bode well either. This game will come down to who can capitalize best on their opponents weaknesses, it can't be any more clear than that.