The Raptors are on to the third game of their (mercifully) shortened pre-season schedule. And this time: it’s in the continental you, ess, of eyyyyy. That’s right, the Raptors are in Portland this evening to face-off against a punchy Trail Blazers team. Just as Toronto’s backcourt is an underappreciated high-water mark in the conference — with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan never quite getting their due — the combo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are often forgotten about. Such is life.
Toronto heads into this game at 1-1, splitting two games against the Clippers in Hawaii, after flashing some interesting flair, and accompanying disaster, with their new(ish) look roster. The number of three-point shot attempts are up, but the makes are way, way down. The young guys have yet to really prove themselves — save for perhaps Norman Powell. And when Lowry and DeRozan aren’t on the court, it’s trouble.
Still, it’s the pre-season. We’re learning as we go. Here are all the things you need to know in advance of tonight’s game.
Where to Watch:
TSN at 10pm
Raptors - Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, C.J. Miles, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
Trail Blazers - Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Evan Turner, Ed Davis, Jusuf Nurkic
Raptors - Malcolm Miller, presumably OG Anunoby, and we don’t know the status yet of Norman Powell, who sat last game with a sore ankle.
Trail Blazers - Noah Vonleh (remember him?)
As I mentioned off the top, both the Blazers and Raptors are powered by their All-Star-calibre backcourts. In a world where names like Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden didn’t exist, the kingdom would probably belong to Lillard, with McCollum on hand as a trusty lieutenant. As it stands, much like Lowry and DeRozan always in the shadow of LeBron or John Wall or whoever, all four guys are only partway acknowledged as being in that elite, or near-elite company.
So then, this game will presumably be won and lost by these eight pair of hands. Lillard is a Curry-level shooter, Lowry is one of the smartest players in the league, McCollum is perhaps one of the most active, and DeRozan is one of the hardest to guard. It’s an interesting combination of talents and personalities. And while much of the game will likely be ceded to Powell, and Delon Wright, Shabazz Napier, and the like, we’ll probably get to see these main four go at it for a stretch. It’s pre-season basketball, but that’s not nothing.
Containing the Big Boys
For the Raptors, something will have to be done about Nurkic, the chief big boy. Since joining the Blazers, Jusuf has been something of a revelation — a monster on the boards, a twinkled-toed giant in the post, and a better passer than he was given credit for in the shadow of Nikola Jokic (himself, perhaps an even bigger big boy).
The Blazers also have rookie Caleb Swanigan, the beefy forward who dropped 18 points on the Suns the other. It’ll be fun to watch these two in combination with Portland’s other, relatively svelte, forwards, Meyers Leonard and former Raptor Ed Davis. That’s a core of inside-outside big man play that could give the Raptors some trouble. Is Valanciunas ready? Can Ibaka keep up? And what will we see from Lucas Nogueira, Pascal Siakam, and Jakob Poeltl?
In game one of the pre-season, the Raptors shot 26 percent from 3 on 43 attempts. In game two? 29 percent on 26 attempts. As a sign of change within the Raptors offensive system, the amount of three attempts is a noteworthy bellwether. First, because it’s the most powerful and obvious change they can make; and second, because it is the easiest thing to tangible track.
Now we just have to find out who, outside of Lowry (and presumably Miles and Ibaka, though they’ve been pretty bad from deep), can actually hit the long bomb effectively. Strange days indeed.