The Portland Trail Blazers are the one of the hottest teams in in the NBA. Picked by many to bottom out and miss the playoffs before the season began, the Blazers sit seventh in the tough Western Conference, and are playing at such a torrid clip that they could easily overtake the aging Mavericks or even the banged-up Grizzlies before everything is said and done.
They've won eight of their past 10 games, and are 18-5 since a three game slide just after New Years. Tonight's game is their fifth contest on a tough six-game eastern road swing. They kicked things off with solid victories over Chicago and Indiana before the requisite blowing out of the Knicks in New York. They then got their asses handed to them (116-93) by Boston on Wednesday.
Are the Blazers tiring out? Can the Raptors slow down Video Game Dame?
Here are your keys to the game.
It's Like Looking in a Mirror, Only... Different
The Raptors and Blazers are constructed somewhat similarly. Both rely heavily on the scoring punch from their back court, and both rely on their guards to create scoring opportunities via the slash-and-kick. Portland's offense is a bit flashier than Toronto's; there's a ton of superfluous off-ball screen work and cutting that goes down, whereas Toronto relies more on a traditional pick and roll. Both teams have had good offensive success, regardless of how they've packaged it. In fact, they've been weirdly similar. Have a gander.
Field Goal Percentage: Toronto 45.1 (12th), Portland 44.9 (13th)
Three Point Percentage: Toronto 36.6 (3rd), Portland 36.2 (5th)
Points per 100 Possessions: Toronto 106.7 (5th), Portland 105.2 (7th)
There are differences, of course. Portland rebounds and moves the ball slightly better than Toronto, outranking them in boards (3rd vs 12th) and assists (18th vs 28th). Toronto gets to the line at a far better clip than Portland, ranking 3rd in the league, while the Blazers sit 23rd. Portland also shoots only 73.2% from the line as a team, 5th worst, so even when they get there, they're not making the most of the opportunities.
The most telling difference? Despite the similarities, Toronto sports a +4.8 differential (per 100), while Portland is only +1.2.
Back, Back, Back It Up
This is a battle of two of the best back-courts in the NBA and it should be an entertaining one, because well, the Blazers duo aren't exactly known for their defense.
I mentioned earlier that they got whupped by Boston two nights ago; Lillard and C.J. McCollum posted identical -22 plus/minus ratings in the game, and while they were decent on offense, their sieve-like defense was badly exposed by the Celtics trio of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart. While those three can be hard for anyone to handle, Bradley and Thomas posted identical +23 lines on the night, which aligns neatly with the Blazer guards woeful lines. Lillard and McCollum only turned the ball over four times combined, so it's not like the offense was generated that way. It might not be quite as simple as straight up bad D, but when you hear hooves, don't look for zebras.
With all that said, Damian Lillard is an offensive machine and the Raptors will have their hands full trying to stop him. He's averaged 29.1 points, 6.5 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals over the past 30 days, shooting 45/38/91 in the process.
Home Sweet Home
Toronto is playing the second of seven games in a row at home; they've lost 6 home games so far this season, which trails only Golden State, San Antonio and Cleveland for fewest in the NBA. Their home winning percentage is actually better than that of the Cavaliers. Cleveland is heading out to the California next week and follow that up with the tough Florida back to back; the time is now for Toronto to close the two game gap between the team for first place in the East.
Where to Watch: TSN at 7:30pm EST