The Moda Center in Portland is set to host two teams that could very easily be undefeated in a parallel universe Monday night. That is especially true for the Blazers, whose two losses came by a combined four-point margin (to the Bucks and Clippers). The Raptors have won 4 in a row against Portland, though each one was a tight affair (the largest win was by 7 points). This streak comes on the heels of a 4-game stretch of wins for the side from Oregon.
As usual, the star power in the matchup will rest in the backcourt, as Lowry and DeRozan will take on Lillard and McCollum. However, there are many other storylines that could tilt this contest as well.
The Raptors have emphasized three point shooting this year, but the attempts have not translated to success as of yet, with the team shooting below 30%, one of the league’s worst marks. At the other end of the scale, the Blazers have opened the season at a blistering pace, shooting just under 44% from beyond the arc collectively. Keep a bag of salt handy for the sample size, but it’s interesting to note that both teams currently find themselves in the top 10 on the offensive and defensive rating charts after a handful of games.
Another significant development for the Blazers is their unwavering commitment to rebounding the ball, particularly on the offensive side (currently holding the league-best mark for offensive rebounding percentage).
Alex: Care to name Portland’s shooting coach so that the Raptors can poach him? Everyone seems to have started the year on fire from three, with McCollum, Aminu and Connaughton all shooting above 45% on at least 3.8 attempts per game, with the Blazers ranking 2nd in the league in the category. Aminu in particular, a career 32% long range shooter, is hitting more than half his shots. Does he finally have the right tools to be consistent in that department, or is this simply a small sample size aberration?
Steve: From head coach Terry Stotts all the way to assistant coach Jim Moran, the Trail Blazers are loaded with coaches that thrive on getting their players in the right position to be successful on offense.
Aminu has been on fire to start the season, but a return to reality is likely in order. The former Wake Forest standout shot 36.1 percent from beyond the arc when he first came to Portland, which is a number that the Blazers would probably be satisfied with at the season’s conclusion.
As for Connaughton, he is finally able to show what he is capable of filling an Allen-Crabbe-sized hole on offense. Portland brought in Anthony Morrow this summer to boost perimeter shooting, but Connaughton’s fast start has shown why the 32-year-old veteran was cut before the regular season.
Alex: The Blazers weren’t known as a rebounding powerhouse last season, but are tops in the Association (after 5 games) on the offensive side, 5th on the defensive (per NBA.com). Ed Davis in particular stands out with 4.5 offensive rebounds per game. Is this a conscious effort by the team, or simply the work of determined individuals?
Steve: Portland’s dip in rebounding last season directly corresponded with a litany of injuries in the frontcourt. With Davis healthy, the Blazers have been able to successfully generate a ton of second chance points to start the year. Outside of Davis, the Blazers have found a potential gem in rookie big man Caleb Swanigan. Look for this duo to only get stronger on the boards as the season progresses.
Alex: Last season’s acquisition of Nurkic spurred the Blazers into the postseason. His minutes and numbers appear to be down a bit to start the year. Has anything changed, or do you feel the momentum has been maintained?
Steve: Nurkic’s foul trouble is the culprit for his early-season minutes decline. After losing a considerable amount of weight over the offseason, Nurkic is still learning how to leverage his way around the court. With his restricted free agency looming after this season, you can bet that Nurkic will get plenty of opportunities to prove himself.
Boosted by the (not-wholly-convincing-but-a-win-is-a-win-especially-on-the-road) victory in Los Angeles Friday, the Raptors will face a confident team firing on all cylinders. In addition to DeRozan’s ever-dependable offensive production and Siakam’s hot form, they’ll ask more of Lowry and Powell, who have quietly been underperforming to start the year.
Lowry’s passing has been invaluable so far, but a return to shooting form will go a long way to smoothing out the team’s pass-happy offense. It’s likely only a matter of time until he hits his stride in that department, and it may be a refreshing change to see him hit peak form going into the second half of the year and the postseason instead of the other way around.
Powell’s case seems a little more complex. It’s a bit odd to see him struggle playing with the starting unit, especially since he often excelled in a similar role last year. His game appears to be in limbo at the moment, but the season is young and there is plenty of time to turn things around.
The 2017/18 chapter of the North’s saga continues at 10pm Eastern on TSN4.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: Norman Powell, C.J. Miles, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Bruno Caboclo
C: Serge Ibaka, Jakob Poeltl
TBD: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira
PG: Damian Lillard, Shabazz Napier
SG: CJ McCollum, Pat Connaughton
SF: Maurice Harkless, Evan Turner, Jake Layman
PF: Al-Farouq Aminu, Ed Davis, Caleb Swanigan
C: Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins
OUT: Meyers Leonard (Ankle Sprain), Wade Baldwin IV (thumb), Noah Vonleh (shoulder), C.J. Wilcox