In what may be their toughest stretch of games this season, the Toronto Raptors are flying high.
Sure, there were losses to the Nets and Bucks over the weekend. The mood has shifted quickly, though, as the Raptors have blown the doors off strong Western Conference opponents in two straight games — winning by 24 over the Clippers and 20 over the Warriors, even without Kawhi Leonard.
That means there’s some serious momentum going into tonight’s game in Portland. History is also on Toronto’s side as they face the 15-14 Portland Trail Blazers, who have fallen off a hot start to become one of the morass of teams in the log-jammed West. The Raptors have won six straight games against Portland going back three seasons.
There will be adjustments. The Raptors will play their first game of a four-week stretch without Jonas Valanciunas, which means Greg Monroe will likely play centre with the second unit and Chris Boucher is with the team. That wrinkle should be particularly interesting against Portland.
We’ll get into that. But first, the details of tonight’s game.
Where to Watch
Sportsnet One, 10 PM ET
Toronto - Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Portland - Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Maurice Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jusuf Nurkic
Toronto - Kawhi Leonard (questionable - hip), Norman Powell (out - shoulder), Jonas Valanciunas (out - thumb)
Portland - none
Life Without Jonas
As I alluded to up top, it will definitely be fascinating to see how the Raptors match up with the Blazers without Jonas Valanciunas, as Portland is one of the few teams with a traditional centre in their starting lineup. Toronto has taken advantage of Jusuf Nurkic ever since he joined the Blazers, particularly using Valanciunas as a point of attack in the post.
How that changes with Greg Monroe might not be that wild. Against either Nurkic, Jake Layman, or Meyers Leonard, I expect the Raptors will try to get the ball into the paint as much as possible. Portland is a bottom ten team in both second chance points given up (14.2 per game) and blocks (4.9 per game), meaning that either Monroe, Serge Ibaka, or driving guards will get some good looks. That play at the rim should be somewhat decisive in this matchup.
The other obvious lead in this one is how Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry fare against the All-Star backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Both have been prolific this season, shooting good percentages from the field, as Lillard is averaging 27.0 points per game (43.9%) and McCollum is averaging 22.0 (47.2%).
Luckily, Lowry and VanVleet are coming off what might be their best defensive games of the season. VanVleet was a pest chasing around Steph Curry, playing a lot of full-court pressure and fighting over screens. Lowry was also great on the ball, as well as being a willing soldier in team defence — even spending some time guarding Draymond Green.
If Lowry and VanVleet are that engaged defensively against Portland, the Raptors may be able to win those matchups, even if the two visiting guards aren’t the same kind of box score beasts.
Beyond their two guards, Portland’s supporting cast have cooled off after a fiery start. Most will probably remember a couple outstanding Nik Stauskas games in October, but those have mostly fallen by the wayside. Of the Trail Blazers bench, it comes down to how much scoring they can get from guys like Stauskas and Seth Curry.
Again, if the Raptors bench is as engaged as they were against the Warriors, they should be able to limit those rhythm shooters.
I’m also interested to see whether Nick Nurse continues to blend lineups as effectively as he has over the last two games. We’ve seen a lot of transition lineups with Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam propping up Delon Wright and OG Anunoby, which has made the bench more dangerous.