Happy new year, Republic. The Raptors will look to keep their momentum from the end of 2012 alive to start 2013, as they return home having won seven of their past eight games. The Portland Trail Blazers are in town, and the Raptors should be looking for revenge after a Batum-and-Matthews-less Blazers pounded the Raptors in early December.

Before we get into the breakdown, Sean Highkin of Portland Roundball Society was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.

Last time these two teams met, the Blazers started Victor Claver and Sasha Pavlovic and won handedly. It was, without a doubt, the low-point of the Raptors season. Have the Blazers gotten healthy since, and what do Wes Matthews and Nic Batum mean for this match up?

Batum didn’t miss that much time, and he’s been back in the lineup for a while. So thankfully, we seem to be past the era of Sasha Pavlovic being a starter for good as a society. Matthews hasn’t played in a few weeks, but he is supposed to return on Tuesday against the Knicks. So we’ll see how he looks. He’s tried to come back a couple of times before and had to take himself out of the game pretty quickly because his hip was still bothering him. I don’t know whether he would start or come off the bench at first, but I wrote recently that it might be smart for Terry Stotts to consider keeping Claver in the starting lineup and using Matthews as a sixth man. As far as what they bring to the matchup, the Blazers won that first game against the Raptors despite a historically bad three-point shooting performance (a record that was, ironically, broken by the Nuggets against the Blazers a week later). Matthews and Batum are two of the Blazers’ best three-point shooters, so I wouldn’t expect a repeat if they’re playing.

When I spoke to Hornets247, they mentioned they think Anthony Davis is the Rookie of the Year if he doesn’t miss any more time. Agree, or is Damian Lillard the choice in your books?

I still think Lillard will win it, but it’s not a one-man race like it was looking like earlier in the season. Davis has been basically as good as advertised since returning, and if he stays healthy he has a very good shot at taking it. Harrison Barnes and Andre Drummond are both making strong cases for themselves too.

What type of team do the Blazers struggle with? What can the Raptors try to exploit to stay hot and win their eighth in nine games?

The Blazers have one of the worst interior defenses in the league, so the Raptors’ best chance at winning is to attack the rim relentlessly. J.J. Hickson isn’t stopping anybody, and Meyers Leonard may still be hurt.

Tale of the Tape
O-Rating: Toronto 104.7 (13th) Portland 104.6 (14th)
D-Rating: Portland 106.9 (22nd), Toronto 108.1 (26th)
Pace: Portland 91.0 (22nd), Toronto 90.5 (23rd)
Strength: Toronto Ball Control (2nd in TO%), Portland Balance (not high/low in any one area really)
Weakness: Portland 3FG (26th, 33.7%), Toronto Fouling (30th in Opp FTA/FGA)

Positional Breakdown
Point Guard – Jose Calderon and Kyle Lowry v. Damian Lillard, Ronnie Price and Nolan Smith
Advantage:
Raptors
Lillard has been exceptional and is probably in the driver’s seat for the Rookie of the Year award right now, but his backups are pretty mediocre, meaning the Raptors will have an advantage some of the time. If Calderon and Lowry can co-exist and Dwane Casey can maximize each of them in their roles, the Raptors could and should have the advantage at the point against most teams. Lillard is definitely exploitable on the defensive end, but it will be important for the Raptors’ guards to try and force him into bad shots on offense to keep him from going off. Lillard loves to shoot the three and does so effectively, but he doesn’t finish well within nine feet. I’m not saying they should matador him to the paint, but if Amir Johnson can be ready with help defense, he does tend to get tunnel vision once he starts his drive. It’s not a huge advantage, but I like Lowry to step up to the challenge of defending the “hot-shot rookie,” which seems like something he’d get up for.

Wings – DeMar DeRozan, Alan Anderson, Mickael Pietrus, Terrence Ross, Linas Kleiza and Landry Fields v. Wesley Matthews (questionable), Nicolas Batum, Victor Claver, Sasha Pavlovic and Luke Babbitt
Advantage:
Blazers
The Blazers have terrible wing depth, but if Matthews can go they have the best two wings in the game, no offense to DeRozan. Batum is a do-everything type but he’s actually struggled with his three-point stroke so far this season. Matthews, if he goes, has not, hitting nearly 40%. The Blazers did set the all-time three-point shooting futility mark in the last match-up, but they were without these two sharpshooters. Now, I was originally about to say the Raptors tend to give up a lot of threes, but when I pulled the numbers it’s actually not true at all. Perhaps the Raptors give up the most OPEN threes, but they’ve only allowed the 24th most attempts at a league average effectiveness. Anderson has been a big help defensively of late, and he, Pietrus, Ross and perhaps Fields will all need to be active in their rotations and leave the help on Lillard to the bigs. Offensively, DeRozan could be bothered by the length of the wings and the fact that none of them foul very often. He’ll need to set the attacking precedent early.

Bigs – Ed Davis, Amir Johnson and Aaron Gray v. LaMarcus Aldridge, J.J. Hickson, Jared Jeffries and Meyers Leonard
Advantage:
Blazers
Portland gets a slight edge here because of LMA, and he’ll probably get 25+8 with relative ease in this one. However, Aldridge doesn’t seem to have that “take over a game” gene, so if the Raptors can limit him to his normal numbers there’s a chance to offset his production by limiting others. Hickson does the Charlie Work for his points, pulling in 4.1 offensive rebounds per game, so Davis will be tasked with utilizing that top-20 defensive rebound rate to neutralize second chance opportunities. Neither of the Blazer bigs is particularly adept at defending against the pick-and-roll, and Lillard isn’t especially strong there either, so there’s an opportunity to make up for a potentially light game from the wings via some smart pick-and-roll play.

The Picks
Vegas: TBD
Hollinger Power Rankings: Raptors -5
Blake: Raptors by 9.

Why the optimism? For one, the team appears to have turned a corner mentally and on the floor, and there’s all sorts of happy vibes coming from the ACC. While this doesn’t mean much over the long haul, I’m a believer that this sort of thing can provide short-term gains. Add to that the fact that the Blazers will be on the second night of a travel back-to-back and may be without one of their top players, and I think the Raptors will have every opportunity to win this one. Oh, and the team should be as hungry as they’ve been all year looking to avenge the low-point of the season.

Plus, it’s the new year, it’s a time for optimism.

Follow Blake on Twitter.

  • KJ-B

    Wes Matthews ain’t better than DeRozan–what was in your drink on New Year’s???

    Toronto Media–smh….keep hating/doubting, it seems to inspire #10!  Winning is about shooting free throws not 23 footers–check the numbers!

    2nd night of a back to back, Raps will have to do a lot of stuff wrong to lose this one, hopefully egos are still in check!

    • BlakeMurphy

      I don’t hate DD at all, I’ve been one of the biggest DD supporters!

      PER’s are equal, DD rebounds a bit more and shoots an extra FT/gm but Matthews distributes better and has the range, Matthews is a slightly more effective defender at this point. They’re pretty close, and I think DeRozan’s got more upside, but I’d hardly call picking one over the other “hating/doubting.”

      • Pesterm1

         Derozan is almost never injured though. That has to play a factor.

        • BlakeMurphy

          Truth. But this is also a single-game preview.

          • RaptorFan

            Demar Derozan > Westley Matthews  — check the stats

            Demar – 18.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2 apg
            Westley – 14.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.4 apg

            I would take Demar all day every day – i prefer a player that gets into the paint and gets to the line 

            • BlakeMurphy

              A big part of that is that DeMar just shoots more. In terms of efficiency they are almost dead even, since Matthews offsets the lack of FT with better 3-point shooting.

              I’ll digress, because as I mentioned they’re close and I’d rather DeMar in the long-run. Hopefully he sticks it to me tonight 😉

            • Mark

              Wesley not “Westley”.

              • RaptorFan

                thanks!  sorta lol

        • peterL

          Every NBA player has some sort of nick or pull or tightness they play through. Matthews had a 250 game streak going that was just recently broken. These past games are the only games he’s ever missed. Even is Derozan has never missed a game ever in his NBA career, that can’t be a big factor in rating the two against each other.

      • KJ-B

        Uhmm, I’ll characterize it as my addressing the Toronto general “grass is greener” on the other side NBA complex…Raptors are never “good enough” when here but find success “elsewhere”…

        DeRozan makes his teammates better, is the #1 focus of the other team to stop, has improved every season.

        Matthews is an “other”, to quote Shaq, whose game would disappear if he were the #1 option on a team and he’s been in steady decline for a couple years now… 

    • optifan

      Yeah I thought that was ridiculous as well. I think in the past around year we used to over-value our players, but lately on this site it’s been exactly the opposite – guys unfairly discounting some of the true talents we have.

      Mathews ain’t better than Derozan, plain and simple, no backtracking required.

      • Tonious35

         Matthews, isn’t Kobe at all and maybe not at Eric Gordon level, but that guy is the solid and consistent solution to that failed project called “Martell Webster”

      • KJ-B

        True. Nuff said.

  • j bean

    They looked very tough yesterday against the Knicks opening up a 19 point lead before letting it get closer in the fourth.
    If they take advantage of the defensive weaknesses of the home team early I see a similar result this game with the Raptors having to stage a late game surge.

  • Paul

    They have already won seven of eight. They are looking to win eight of nine….

    • BlakeMurphy

      Corrected, thanks. I said 7of8 one place and 8of9 another.

  • Roarque

    Let’s hope the Blazers celebrated hard after beating the Knicks and won’t have the legs for Totonto’s new found fourth quarter push. This will be a real test for the Raptors – may be the best game of the season to date.

    • Tonious35

       Best game? in what way?  I agree in terms of quality of team, but are you also mentioning that you also want to witness D. Lillard in action?  I also agree with if it is watching quality team that we have a chance against.

  • mountio

    This will be our first real test in a while (outside of SAS). This is a very good portland team that handled NYK fairly easily last night.  Sure, we get them on the B2B – but this is a very solid team.

    Question is, will it be like the SA game, where we are never really in it, or will we make this a game. I think we will make this a good game .. but if we dont, you have to start to question whether all these supposed changes are for real or just a figment of our imagination based on schedule and a few guys getting hot (note that “hot” for AA is shooting 35% from the floor .. )

    I view this as a very critical measuring stick .. because there is no reason given their B2B that we shouldnt be right in or winning this game .. 

  • pran

    batum is awesome, can’t wait to see him in action. GO RAPS.

    • KJ-B

      Awesome… Disappointment thru 2!

  • Tonious35

    With Bargs not on the floor, at least we don’t have a “F@#$, we should of picked that LaMarcus Aldridge guy” up-close witnessing for 48 minutes of game time.   This game scares me, one of Batum, Matthews, or Aldridge might go off on us.

    • Gregast

      I agree – it’s the fear factor that should make it a must see event. I’m picking the twins seperated at birth ( Jose and Amir) to show the way offensively should the Raptors prevail. I know, I know I’m a sucker for the underdog. Don’t dis me for passion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kyle.a.kennedy.3 Kyle Allen Kennedy

    Aren’t we going for 8 out of 9? Five game winning streak followed by a loss to SAS and wins at NO and Orlando? Therefore if we win tonight wouldn’t it be 8 out of the last 9?

  • tyson

    Anyone read the article by the Blazers edge? wow is it ever harsh on the raps. to be fair most of it’s true … but I’ve never seen the team’s weaknesses written out so boldly before.

    http://www.blazersedge.com/2013/1/2/3826698/portland-trail-blazers-vs-toronto-raptors-2012-2013

    • mountio

      Great article .. like you say .. pretty true. I think the jury is still very much out on whether this recent run is more smoke and mirrors or more a legitimately good team .. 

  • FAQ

    TRap game strategies:

    1. Don’t fall behind in the first half like the NYKs did and lost.

    2. Jam the paint on defense.  Stop Aldridge.

    3. Start Jose to jell the offense, and to score when he’s fresh.

    4. Then run run run with Kyle.

    • FAQ

      RATPORS RUNNING ….!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      (First half over and so far so good..!!!)

  • BlakeMurphy

    Re:DD tonight. So happy to be wrong in this case.

    • KJ-B

      1st time ever I gave DeMar an All Star vote 2nite!