Over the past eight games, the Portland Trailblazers have been feasting, coming out on top of seven matchups. Next, they look to masticate the Raptors, one of the best teams in the league, to prove that they’re on the rise.
Nothing exemplifies the tear that the Trailblazers have been on better than C.J. McCollum’s 50-point outburst Wednesday night against the Chicago Bulls. The Trailblazers may sport the league’s worst assist percentage, but that doesn’t matter much when McCollum rips out the hearts of Chicago players and fans alike with no remorse. Sure, the Bulls might be the not-so-proud owners of the league’s fifth-worst defense, but still — McCollum’s out for blood. Did I mention that he managed to do this all in just three quarters?
However, when McCollum’s not cooking, you better believe Damian Lillard will be. Averaging 25.2 points, 6.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game, Lillard is not someone to trifle with. After being left off the All-Star team two years in a row, Lillard is proudly making his return this year, and deservedly so. The Raptors are surely going to have a difficult time containing one of the league’s best backcourts without the help of defensive pest Fred VanVleet, so Delon Wright is up for a tall task. I expect Norman Powell (remember him?) to get some extended run in this game too, primarily for his (once stellar) defense.
Let’s look at the game details:
Where to Watch
Sportsnet One, 7:30pm EST
Toronto - Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
Portland - Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Evan Turner, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jusuf Nurkic (GTD)
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, C.J. Miles (day-to-day)
Portland – CJ Wilcox
Pick Your Poison
Much like DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, it’s extremely rare that both Lillard and McCollum have simultaneous off nights. Thus, it’s going to be extremely difficult to slow down both of them, if not nearly impossible. While the backcourt duo plays nearly identical minutes, their shot selection varies. However, when diving into the numbers, one can find a peculiar pattern that the Raptors will need to monitor throughout the night in order to strategize on the defensive end. McCollum is a phenomenal three-point shooter; in fact, he’s currently shoots the 9th best three-point percentage in the NBA (43.1%). Lillard, while a good shooter from long range (37.2%), is a far cry from the best in the league. Yet, he takes 8.1 attempts from beyond the arc per game, compared to McCollum’s comparatively lowly 5.9 attempts.
While this seems like a strange shot dispersion allowed by Terry Stotts and company, I can’t argue with the results. Stotts just received Western Conference Coach of the Month honours for January — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. During the game, if Dwane Casey notices McCollum streaking from three, Delon Wright should be assigned to cover him – the length that he provides on defense is invaluable. If it happens to be Lillard who’s shooting the lights out, the defensive coverage should shift more towards him.
Pass The Rock
As previously mentioned, the Trailblazers host the league’s worst assist percentage. The Raptors, on the other hand, are ranked much higher, just outside of the top ten. Usually, the Raptors would have the clear advantage in this category. However, the Raptors may run into some trouble without VanVleet, who contributes the third-most assists of any player on the roster. Lowry and Wright will likely share what would have been VanVleet’s minutes with the second unit at the beginning of the fourth quarter in an effort to keep the Raptors’ assists, and winning hopes, up.
Battle of the Boards
If Jusuf Nurkic plays, the Raptors will run into some trouble on the inside. The Bosnian big man is made up of muscles and grit, and leads the Blazers in rebounds by a wide margin. However, the Raptors aren’t without their hot-headed, foreign seven-footer.
In the month of January, Jonas Valanciunas has averaged nearly ten rebounds per game, with that number increasing to over eleven boards per game in his last seven outings. Like Valanciunas, Nurkic isn’t one to turn down a fight, but the real winner between these two will be determined on the glass – not by amount of punches thrown.