After coming off a 106-105 heartbreaking loss in last night’s contest against the Golden State Warriors, the Toronto Raptors will look to move on and wrap-up their four-game west coast trip tonight against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Last night’s game could have gone either way, if Pascal Siakam’s potential game-winner doesn’t rim out then the Raptors are looking at a 3-6 record.
This is about as clean of a look as you can get for an iso GW. Wiggs hands are by his sides and Pascal wasn't really hurried by pressure. But again, narratives. https://t.co/3LlrslDGx9— PD Web (@abovethebreak3) January 11, 2021
Instead, it hasn’t been pretty for Toronto, now nine games into the season. A record of 2-7 has them looking from the bottom up, sitting at 13th in the Eastern Conference.
You lose some, you lose some more ♂️— proposition moe (@VtecPapi) January 11, 2021
With how the early season has gone, getting the third win of the season against Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and their Trail Blazers will be a tough task at hand.
For Portland, they’re 5-4 on the season with the hottest backcourt in the league. While Lillard is having an average year according to his standards, McCollum is having a career year. He’s up to 27.9 points on an efficient 61.7 True Shooting percentage, to go along with five assists, 3.9 rebounds per game. He’s also leading the league in three-point makes with 4.9 makes per game and is also first in total threes with 44. Toronto will have to have their eyes glued on him at all times (and Lillard), much like Curry.
CJ McCollum continued his early-season tear last night:— Justin Kubatko (@jkubatko) January 10, 2021
✅ 37 PTS
✅ 13-22 FG
✅ 6-11 3P
✅ 5-5 FT
McCollum became just the second player in NBA history to reach 40 3PM in a season in fewer than 10 games.
Stephen Curry has done so four times, most recently this season. pic.twitter.com/JLKqbj36xs
Hopefully, this has refreshed your memory from what happened last night, so let’s jump into tonight’s keys to the game against the Trail Blazers.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 10:00 p.m. E.T.
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam
Portland — Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Derrick Jones Jr., Robert Covington, Jusuf Nurkic
Toronto — Patrick McCaw (out — knee)
Portland — Zach Collins (out — ankle)
A Good Time to Rediscover Some Ol’ Magic
For those that don’t remember, last season’s game against the Trail Blazers in Portland was a masterclass performance by the Raptors. Here is a quick recap: Toronto was in a similar situation they’re in now. They were on a five-game west coast trip and headed into Portland on the back-end of the trip with no Lowry, OG Anunoby, and Serge Ibaka. Little did we know, the Raptors were about to have one of the best games that season. Pascal Siakam went off for 36 and Fred VanVleet put up 30 to carry the Raps to a 114-106 victory. In that same game, the shorthanded Raps held Lillard to only nine points, snapping his 230-game streak of scoring in double figures.
Toronto’s defense on the Blazers’ backcourt duo in Lillard and McCollum from last season was phenomenal and if the Raps want to have any chance at a repeat performance, Lowry, VanVleet, Anunoby, and others are going to have to contain both Lillard and McCollum’s hot-shooting and explosive penetration to the rim. Given how they were able to contain Curry last night, the Raptors have the personnel and gameplan to do it in theory, but we’ll have to see them execute said plan for real.
Last season’s game was also where they discovered a gem on the bench in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. After getting called out by Nick Nurse earlier in last season’s training camp, RHJ became the perimeter and post enforcer, the hustle man, and glass-crasher all in one night against the Blazers last season. Hopefully, the Raps rediscover that same magic from one or two players from the bench in this game. While Chris Boucher has already asserted himself, some other names we could see having a similar performance to RHJ’s would be Yuta Watanabe, Malachi Flynn, Stanley Johnson, or DeAndre’ Bembry. One could say it’s a reach to even list some of those names but all four provide high-level energy and bring it on defense, which is what we’ve seen a bit during this road trip.
The best-case scenario to come out of this is to see excellent performances from the usual suspects, with one or two standout guys from the bench. The latter part of that is key as Toronto’s bench has been inconsistent so far — something that wasn’t the case as much last year.
Defend the Three and Defend it Some More
Luckily, the Raptors caught a break from the Warriors catching fire from deep. However, much like the game against the Kings, the Raptors will once again need to watch the shooters in this one. We already saw the Raptors come back from a 19-point and two 15-point deficits against the Kings, Suns, and Warriors (respectively) during this trip, but at some point, it’s exhausting for all involved to continuously mount comebacks. It’s even more unlikely to overcome large deficits on a road trip and against a lethal three-point shooting team.
In Portland’s last five games against the Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves, Chicago Bulls, and Warriors (twice), they have hit 17, 18, 19, 13, and 20 three-pointers, respectively. For the season, Portland ranks second in three-point makes with 16.3 and they’re hitting them with accuracy, shooting 38.6 percent, which is good for top-five in the NBA. We know Lillard and McCollum are deadly shooters but the Raptors, they have to watch out for the unexpected ‘other guy’ who always burns them. Gary Trent Jr., Carmelo Anthony, Covington, Rodney Hood, and Jones Jr. could all step in as those others guys. Look for the Raptors to aggressively close out on Portland’s shooters tonight.
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have each made multiple 3-pointers in the same game 208 times.— Justin Kubatko (@jkubatko) January 8, 2021
The only teammates in NBA history with more such games are Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson with 358. pic.twitter.com/ORk89xyIpT
Form the Building Blocks
On the bright side, Siakam looks to slowly be getting back into his pre-Bubble form from last season. Unlike the first six games of this season, he’s been much more aggressive, he’s finishing his shots at the rim, and he’s been a step faster at making the right play/pass during this road trip. Hopefully, Siakam will be able to carry this into tonight, although it may be tough with Portland’s two solid defenders in Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. who will most likely be drawing most of the matchups on Siakam.
Continuing on, both Kyle Lowry (who returned from a one-game absence last night) and Fred VanVleet almost willed the team to victory against the Warriors. Lowry had only one point through three quarters and was staring at a deficit of 17 in the fourth quarter. He went on to finish with 17, nine rebounds and 6 assists. It was his and VanVleet’s defense that sparked Toronto back into it. After holding Stephen Curry to 11 points on a brutal 2-of-16 shooting performance, it looks like the backcourt duo is getting back into rhythm on both ends of the floor.
Steph with the worst shooting performance of his career (2-for-16). Warriors now 8-2 when Curry shoots 15% or worse in his career. ♂️— Jay Rosales (@Rosalesaurus) January 11, 2021
As always, the two-way play from the captain and soon-to-be captain will certainly be needed tonight against Portland’s electrifying backcourt in Lillard and McCollum.