Prior to the season, if you told Toronto Raptors fans a February game against the Portland Trail Blazers would be must-see TV you would've been laughed at. But fast-forward four and a half months and that's exactly where we are.
That's because the Raps (33-16), fresh off a franchise best 11-game winning streak, are hitting their stride ahead of the break. In the wake of a 104-97 victory over the abysmal Phoenix Suns, tonight's opponent presents a much tougher test for Canada's lone NBA club.
The Blazers (24-26) are playing some fantastic basketball in a year where expectations were at an all-time low. Portland lost four members of its starting rotation in the offseason but have managed to stay competitive thanks to the seamless transition of general manager Neil Olshey's summer additions in former Dino Ed Davis, Al-Farouq Aminu, Mason Plumlee and Gerald Henderson.
With franchise point guard and perennial all-star snub Damian Lillard paving the way once again, Portland has won five straight and six of its last seven to move into the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot ahead of the Utah Jazz. Not bad for a team that many experts around the Association pegged as dead in the water not so long ago.
Here are three things to watch out for in the matchup:
Boost from the bench
Toronto's bench has been spotty this season, however they've turned things around significantly as of late. Three members of the second unit posted some fantastic numbers during the streak, as Patrick Patterson (11.4), Cory Joseph (10.4) and Terrence Ross (10.3) led the squad in +/-. Before the run, the trio came in at 2.9, 2.2 and 2.0, respectively.
T-Ross averaged 10.1 points per game (fourth on the team) while shooting 53 percent from the field and 44 percent from deep over the course of the streak. Before that, the 24-year-old ranked seventh on the club in points per game (8.0), eighth in field goal percentage (41 percent) and fourth in three-point shooting percentage (36 percent).
The Terry Ross fever is real, and it's time to catch it. Or don't. Who knows what to expect from this guy anymore.
Containing C.J. McCollum
One of the main reasons for the Trail Blazers' solid first half of the season has been the emergence of shooting guard C.J. McCollum. McCollum has made the 2015-16 campaign his coming out party, as the Lehigh product is posting averages of 20.9 points, 4.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds while shooting 44 percent from the field and 39 percent from beyond the arc in 48 appearances.
McCollum, the frontrunner for the Most Improved Player Award, has been a pleasant surprise in a season full of them for the Blazers and is excelling as a backcourt mate with the dynamic Lillard. If there's one hole in McCollum's game, however, it's his inability to get to the charity stripe. McCollum is averaging just 2.8 free throws per game, fewer than any 20 point scorer in NBA history - something Dwane Casey's club would be wise to zero in on.
Historically speaking, Portland is a team that's given Toronto fits in recent years. The Blazers have won nine of the last 10 meetings between the clubs, with the Raptors' last W coming all the way back on Jan. 2, 2013. The Raps fell flat in their last tilt with the Blazers in Oregon last March, a 113-97 setback in an off game for Kyle Lowry (10 points, -11). These teams have changed a lot since then, but it's interesting to note just how much the Trail Blazers have dominated this series.
Where to watch: TSN, 10:00 p.m. ET.