Another year gone, another Christmas Day without Toronto basketball. The Raptors spent yesterday’s main event with family and friends — either returning to Canada or flying to their respective homes — and tonight they’re back to it, continuing a six-game road trip in Portland.
Waiting for them are the 13-19 Trail Blazers, who have underwhelmed so far this season, and may be further hampered by the loss of their star. Damian Lillard went down with an ankle injury in Friday’s game against San Antonio, and has been listed as doubtful tonight against Toronto.
What might be even more problematic for Portland, though, is their woeful defense. That’ll be the topic of tonight, and plays into our three things to watch for.
Offensive “Toughness”, As They Say
A matchup of the Raptors and Blazers pits the league’s best offense against worst defense by rating. Toronto still holds a fair lead over Golden State in the former category, while the Blazers have been abysmal in their own end — giving up 112.8 points per game. Their slight frontcourt of Mason Plumlee and Meyers Leonard have been most suspect, which means Jonas Valanciunas could have a hey day on the glass. I’m not saying he’s DeMarcus Cousins good, but Boogie went for 55 against these guys and — hey we all can dream, can’t we?
For the entire Raptors team, though, it’ll be about the oft-cliché of offensive “toughness”. If guys like DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross are engaged and playing within the offense, as they have been for basically 95% of the season — this can be pencilled as a win. There’s just a huge chasm between the offense of the Raptors and the defense of the Blazers. I’m talking 120 points as a starting point.
Kyle Lowry is El Fuego
Coming off 36 points and five assists against the Jazz — probably his best game of the season — Kyle Lowry will look to continue a torrid pace. He leads the Raptors with 95 three-point makes, clicking at a high percentage over a sample size that’s hard to ignore.
#Raptors Kyle Lowry is shooting 52.7% from 3-point range over his last 20 games (77-for-146)— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) December 24, 2016
If Lillard does indeed miss this game, Lowry will see an advantage against either C.J. McCollum shifting to point guard, or Shabazz Napier. Either way, the man they call KLOE should win his matchup.
Take Care of McCollum
Again, the loss of Lillard means that C.J. McCollum becomes the fulcrum of the Blazers offense. Averaging 22 points, 3.6 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game, McCollum has been especially red hot from the outside — shooting a career-high 43.5% on threes so far this year. The Blazers have shown the ability to pour it in this year — an asset that’s been blunted by their inability to stop anyone. While Lillard’s injury definitely throws a body blow to their scoring, it’s not hard to imagine McCollum being ready to step in and take a larger role.
That means it’ll be on the Raptors backcourt — DeRozan, Lowry, Joseph, Ross, even Norman Powell — to ensure McCollum is kept under wraps. No easy back cuts, no mental lapses, and some emphasis on keeping the pace down where the Raptors like it. McCollum is a great shooter, to be sure, but the Blazers have other sources of long range baskets. Another focused defensive outing — similar to the one they gave in Utah — will be critical tonight for the Raptors.
Where to Watch: Sportsnet One, 10 p.m. EST