For large chunks of the first half against the Lakers, the Raptors seemed destined for a disheartening 0-3 start to their west coast road trip. Fortunately, a locked in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan made sure that eventually did not happen; Toronto won going away in the second and we’re all back to feeling good.
The Trail Blazers, meanwhile, have been going back-and-forth on wins and losses lately on the way to their 4-2 opening record. They welcome to the Raptors tonight after beating the hapless Suns on Saturday night, and they remain a dangerous team because of their own locked in backcourt, led by Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
All this backcourt talk obscures the fact that we still don’t know the status of Jonas Valanciunas. Will he be in there to battle with the Blazers’ Jusuf Nurkic? Will Lucas Nogueira re-emerge? Who will show up in the first half of this one?
Here are the details for tonight’s game and some things to keep an eye on.
Where to Watch:
TSN at 10pm
Raptors - Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Trail Blazers - Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Maurice Harkless (but Moe to his friends), Al-Farouq Aminu, Jusuf Nurkic
Raptors - Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Malcolm Miller
Trail Blazers - C.J. Wilcox, Wade Baldwin, Noah Vonleh, Meyers Leonard
Who Will Stop the Nurk?
The NBA is going smaller and faster, but every so often you need a big man to deal with another big man. That’s just the basic fact of it. The Raptors’ biggest of big men, large adult son Valanciunas, may be out tonight which could be trouble against Portland.
Why? Because they have a large adult son of their own, Nurkic, who is ready to bowl over whoever gets in his way. And that includes the Raps’ Ibaka, and Jakob Poeltl. We saw how size, or the absence of it, played out in both the Spurs and Warriors losses. Against San Antonio, the Raptors were killed on the boards and unable to control the paint. JV doesn’t exactly solve these problems on his own, but he is a very strong defensive rebounder who takes up a lot of space. Against the Warriors it was the opposite situation — Poeltl was able to leverage his relative size advantage to have a career night on the boards (on both ends!).
Nurkic presents a problem though. He may be too much of a load for Ibaka or Poeltl, and skilled enough to keep both off-guard for the night. On the season he’s averaging 13 and 8, but only shooting 41 percent. So we’ll see how well the Raptors can keep him from those averages (or, you know, lower them). And if JV is back, well then forget everything I just wrote and let’s just watch the two brutes go at it.
The C.J. Shootout
There are somehow three (three!) C.J.s between these two teams: Miles, McCollum, and poor injured Wilcox. I just wanted to mention that off the top — what are the odds?
Anyway: McCollum is currently the leading scorer on the Blazers at 24.6 points per game. This is no joke — fellow star Lillard is in second at 22.3 points. How’s he doing it? Look no further than McCollum’s 56.5 shooting percentage on 4.6 three attempts per game. (But then look a little further as McCollum is also shooting 48.5 percent overall, which is quite good for a shooting guard.)
Meanwhile, the Raptors’ C.J. Miles is proving himself to be absolutely indispensable to Toronto. He’s currently shooting 38 percent from deep on 7.4 threes per game, and boy howdy do the Raps need every one of those. He, along with Ibaka and Lowry, are the team’s only high volume shooters who can really hurt teams. (Well, them and Siakam, amirite?)
Now, McCollum and Miles won’t tangle with each other directly — it’ll likely be up to Norman Powell to slow him down, while Miles will likely get into it with Aminu or Evan Turner — but keep an eye on who is shooting the lights out.
Another Test for Lowry
Lowry is the engine the makes the Raptors go, but he appears to be still warming himself up to the season. He’s currently shooting 31 percent from three, and 42 percent from the field overall, which is good for 12.4 points per game — down 10 from last season’s average. It’s early — real early — but we haven’t quite seen the total package from Lowry just yet.
Of course, with Lowry it’s never just about shooting. He helps on D (like when he gets switched on to bigs in the post and keeps them out of the paint), and he sets up plays (he’s up to a career-best 7.6 assists a game at the moment). He still puts the Raptors on the path towards success.
Against Lillard though, it’ll be tough. Lowry has shown a bit of slippage in his straight up perimeter defense, and a guy like Lillard is just waiting to dip and dive around the court and light it up. The last time these two guys actually played each other you’ll recall it was Dame who almost sunk the Raptors by his own self, dropping 50 points in a two-point loss back in March 2016. I was there and good god it was terrifying. Will Lillard do that again? Will Lowry be able to stop him? The suspense!