Despite notable injuries, the Raptors have fared well thus far while out west. Toronto followed up an exhilarating win against the Lakers with a hard-fought loss to the Clippers. Tonight, the team will look to regain momentum against the underwhelming Portland Trail Blazers. While this matchup is certainly less emotionally gripping than the Raptors’ previous two, don’t fret — there is still plenty of drama here.
After a rough start, the Blazers are desperately looking to reassert themselves as a playoff threat. Toronto, on the other hand, has seemingly proven itself as a resilient squad that continues to fight when circumstances look bleak. Though, there’s only so much a team can handle: tonight’s contest marks the Raptors’ fourth in six nights, the penultimate game in a brutal road trip that ends in Dallas on Saturday. If Toronto can hold its own during this tough stretch, the injuries to Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and OG Anunoby will mean a bit less in the lighter schedule ahead.
At this point in the season, Portland sits at just 11th in the Western Conference with a 4-7 record. While Damian Lillard has excelled thus far — he’s currently sitting on the cusp of a 50/40/90 season — CJ McCollum has seen a massive drop-off in efficiency, shooting just 39 percent from the field and 31 percent from three. To make matters worse, much like last year, the Blazers’ defense has gotten off to a rocky start. The squad is currently tied for just 17th in the league in defensive rating. If, hypothetically, the Blazers were to take this one, it likely means the Raptors’ shorthanded roster finally came back down to earth.
On that note, let’s hope Chris Boucher is geared up and ready to go. Here are the details for tonight’s game.
Where to Watch:
TSN, 10:00 PM EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Portland – Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Mario Hezonja, Rodney Hood, Hassan Whiteside
Toronto – Kyle Lowry (thumb – out), Serge Ibaka (ankle – out), OG Anunoby (eye – out) Patrick McCaw (knee – out)
Portland – Zach Collins (shoulder – out), Pau Gasol (foot – out), Jusuf Nurkic (leg – out)
The Blazers tend to start games with lethargy, having lost six out of their last seven first quarters. Last game, Toronto understandably ran out of gas in the fourth quarter after losing OG Anunoby to an eye injury early in the game — and being on the second night of a back-to-back. To ensure some breathing room as this game comes to a close, the Raptors must come out guns blazing.
To that end, I’d like to see some focused energy from Fred VanVleet. However, that energy shouldn’t be concentrated entirely towards the rim. Hassan Whiteside is an elite shot blocker, and Fred’s layup attempts were swatted away far too many times down the stretch against the Clippers on Monday. In fact, VanVleet has struggled mightily inside the arc this season, shooting just 33.3 percent on two-point attempts.
Instead, Fred should look to free himself around the perimeter; he’s currently shooting 38 percent from long distance, and Lillard often struggles to keep his matchups in check. Additionally, VanVleet may find it useful to concentrate on finding the open man upon drawing help on drives to the rim.
Speaking of Dame, he’s been an absolute monster on the offensive end this season. As previously mentioned, his shooting has been lights out to start the year. His effective field goal percentage sits at a lofty 58 percent, by far the best mark of his career. If Lillard gets hot against the undermanned Raptors, he’s good enough to carry the team to a victory all by himself.
Toronto must pester him on every possession. Between VanVleet, Norman Powell, and the emboldened Terence Davis, the Raptors have just enough feisty backcourt defenders to bother him. Admittedly, it takes a total team effort to stop guys like Lillard, but given how Toronto took Kawhi Leonard out of his game on Monday night, there’s no reason they can’t gameplan for Dame. And if the Raptors manage to disrupt the flow of Lillard’s game, this year’s Blazers offense will come to a screeching halt (provided CJ McCollum doesn’t suddenly ascend back to his 2018-19 level of play).
Prevent Offensive Rebounds
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say the Raptors were downright obliterated on the boards on Monday night. The team allowed an ungodly 20 offensive rebounds leading to 15 second-chance points in a close loss (admittedly, approximately 7-8 of those boards came on one trip down the floor for the Clippers). Simply put, this cannot happen again. The Blazers are a top ten offensive rebounding team, and if given the opportunity will suck the life out of the Raptors with Whiteside put-backs and kick-outs to Lillard.
Chris Boucher has performed exceptionally well as of late, and his next test comes tonight against the massive Whiteside. The Raptors will need Boucher to rebound with aggression despite his slight frame, sharing the duties with Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam. Boxing out remains a pivotal skill that has eluded these Raptors for much of the season. Part of it is because of the team’s overall lack of size, sure, but it’s also about focus and energy. If Toronto can put all these pieces together, they should be just fine.