The Toronto Raptors have a quick turnaround for Saturday. On Friday night they took on the Denver Nuggets and then hopped on a plane immediately after for the 140-minute flight to Portland. That right there is enough to make one cautious about Saturday’s game, especially since the high-powered Trail Blazers are well rested.

A minor positive is that Terrence Ross was the only Raptor to play more than 33 minutes on Friday (37) thanks to a 16-point lead entering the fourth quarter. The team played poorly in the fourth and coach Dwane Casey was reportedly angry with his charges afterwards.

Winning in Denver and starting off a five-game trip with a victory is a positive, but it couldn’t make me happier that the internal expectations have risen to a level where there are “bad road wins against .500 Western Conference teams.” That’s an important attitude for a team to have.

Anyway, Portland’s on the docket for Saturday night with a 10 p.m. tip-off on TSN.

To help set the stage, I enlisted the help of Dane Carbuagh of Blazer’s Edge, the blog with the best name on the internet.

33-13 and the number one offense in basketball. There’s no way any Blazers fan expected a performance like this through half a season; it must be a fun ride. Given where your preseason expectations were and their performance to date, how do you think Portland stacks up overall in the West moving forward?

That really depends on how the coaching staff reacts and how well the Blazers do in the month of March. For starters, they’ve had a relatively mediocre January considering their hot start, and a lot of that has to do with their schedule being so rigorous. The guys are really tired out and having the last few days off has been good for them. They spent some time together on Thursday night as a team and they really are close. I think that bodes well for them.

The other half of it will be on coach Terry Stotts and his staff. In addition to being fatigued, teams really have been out on the Blazers at the three-point line, disrupting their main offensive weapon. They’ve done a poor job so far counteracting overly-aggressive defensive strategies and now that there’s some tape on the Blazers offense, they’ll have to find new ways to score as teams figure them out.

As good as things have been on offense, this is also a 21st-ranked defensive outfit. The one thing that really sticks out is that the Blazers force turnovers less than any other team – this team has dome decent wing defenders, so are the defensive schemes just ultra-conservative?

Their defensive strategy is two-fold. First, they try to protect the rim as best they can from six feet or so. Second, their guards ride high and tight on the three-point line, fighting over screens playing ICE pick-and-roll defense. Their wings don’t really play passing lanes since they are so high up on their guys.

Portland tries to get you to shoot low percentage jumpers, plain and simple. They want guys to come off the pick-and-roll, take a step inside the arc, and fire up a long jumper. It has led to Portland getting down early in games as teams are fresh and have their legs under them. Slowly but surely, teams continue to shoot those open 17-footers and as the game wears on the averages come into play. It helps that Stotts is great at making halftime adjustments, but the Blazers really have been a second half team.

To answer your question, I would say it is a pretty conservative strategy since it’s based on advanced stats. Teams get hot for whole games and it puts the Blazers in trouble. They struggle big time with mobile fours who can shoot threes. The strategy also requires Portland’s offense to be clicking at all times so they can make up deficits.

Portland has attempted fewer than 15 threes in a game just once this year and fewer than the league average (21) just 11 times. Is there at all a way to chase the Blazers off the arc, or is the offense simply too creative and the players too unselfish to reliably do so?

Absolutely. I wrote about that this week in my breakdown for Blazers Edge, actually. The long and short of it is that teams have really put the Blazers in a bind by playing high and tight on the ball, while sagging in front of wings in order to stop kicks to the perimeter. Portland shooters like to get the ball up quickly, and other than Dorell Wright, you won’t see many pump fakes. That’s allowed defender to go rushing straight at them in closing situations. It’s actually been one of the big reasons the Blazers have lost four of their last six games.

If the Raptors have watched any recent tape of teams beating Portland, they’ll try to do the same thing. For the Blazers, the key will be getting to the paint and trying to finish as a means to draw defenders off the line. They really need to start being more aggressive as they attack the hoop.

DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge combine to take all of the mid-range shots. I don’t really have a question, the shot-charts are just going to be crazy in this one. So, uhh…LaMarcus is pretty good, eh?

LaMarcus has benefited from Robin Lopez in many ways. On defense, he really doesn’t have to guard the biggest guy on the floor anymore, and Lopez is so adept at boxing out it has caused Aldridge’s blocks and rebounds to spike. What people don’t mention is that he’s really able to save a lot of his energy for offense, putting him in an elite category for power forwards in the NBA.

He’s also added a few new wrinkles to his game. In years prior he had two weapons, the elbow jumper and his turnaround jumper on the left baseline. This year, he has really made an effort to drive to the middle of the lane from the left block since guys shade him so hard on the fadeaway. He also has started using this neat little move at the elbow where he receives the ball, takes a dribble with his head down, then uses his left elbow to create space for a little step-back. It’s basically another unstoppable move he added. He’s shown that he’s a complete player this year and that any franchise would be lucky to have him at the center.

I’ll be curious to see if DeRozan takes the bait Portland gives to him at midrange. He should be able to get to the rack against the Blazer wing defenders if he wants to. Whether or not he realizes it could change the outcome of this game entirely.

There’s not much in the way of lines available as of this writing and the Hollinger formula hasn’t been updated yet, so we’re left to our own devices to set an appropriate spread. On the second night of a travel back-to-back, on the road, against a pretty good team, you’d think the Raptors would be significant underdogs, perhaps in the area of seven points.

I’m not confident in the Raptors walking out with a win. Three key players are at less than 100 percent, the team figures to be somewhat tired and you lose some of a potential scouting/schematic edge by playing for a second night in a row (less video time). I’m not meaning to be negative, but this is legitimately one of the toughest games on the schedule – expect a loss, hope for a good fight and a victory is gravy on a pretty fun week for the team.

  • George

    We can win.

    • moe

      chance is 10%. they are rested, we are on a back2bavk. thry have lost 2 and are looking to get back on track. 2 starters are still dealing with injuries. if they won though, they would be their statement win on the year

  • Matt

    10pm start! This must be the latest game all year

    • peter_7.701

      The golden state game was pretty late too I think that was the one where we blew the lead and someone named Rudy Gay was on our team… lol

  • tonious35

    This game might end up being like that last one in Indiana. An ugly-ass grinder, but constantly putting the pressure on a 0.600+ home team and never going away. Suit up Dwight Buycks, we need more bodies!

  • NATHAN AGUDA

    We got this..

  • john

    We can win this, but this game has a high likelihood of me cursing at the tv screen. We don’t perform well against high-ranked offensive teams since we try to play their style. Hopefully tonight is different.

  • FREEJV

    gotta rebound the ball today hopefully we dont see anymore chuck hayes unless we re in foul trouble the guy is useless unless hes guarding another 300 lb big.

  • Age

    We can definitely win. Portland is nothing special except playing as a team, just as the Raptors are doing. They have a set of B+ players that are working very well together.
    Also, a lot of our starters didn’t play heavy minutes yesterday. Ross was the most at 37 mins, and next was DRo at 33. (it would have been less if Vasquez and the bench didn’t lose our large lead in the 4th quarter….but thats another issue)

    • eggo my lego

      Vasquez didn’t take many bad shots or turn over the ball a lot during that bad stretch. he was distributing the ball well but the supporting cast wasn’t converting there shots. shot blaming Vasquez for that bad run, he just happened to be on the court at that time.

      • Age

        I didnt say anything about shots but regardless in 20 mins he had zero points, 2 rebs, 3 assists, 3 turnovers, and shot 0/4 and 0/2 from 3pt.
        Whichever way you see it….this is not a good game for our backup PG when we had a 20 point lead

  • cdub

    I can already envision the parade of long twos derozan will take. I’m hoping he changes up that aspect of his game. I don’t mind the midrange off curls or pindowns or late in the clock but other than that I’d prefer not to see that shot.

  • Tanks-a-lot

    I’m hoping that the Blazers are too rested and a touch rusty.

  • Mexiballer

    Derozans ankle is not anywhere near 100%. You could see it last night. How he plays could determine if the Raptors can stay close.

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