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Gameday: Trail Blazers visit Toronto for a Sunday Night Showdown

If the effort versus the Heat is any indication, buckle-up for tonight’s East-West clash against Portland. One that can be viewed as a pivotal point in the Raptors’ season. Which version of this squad will show up? The frustratingly stagnant troops who withered away nine of their previous ten, or the ball-moving, revenue-sharing Raps who woke up just in time to face Miami. Sunday night will certainly shed some light on the subject. Let’s see how the official numbers stack up coming in:

Portland Trail Blazers vs Toronto Raptors

Sun Mar 15, 7:00 PM EST – CSNW, SNET

Line: TOR -2.0, O/U: 204.5

Air Canada Centre – Toronto, ON

Recent Matchups

Ranks

  • 107.8 ORTG (8)
  • 102.3 DRTG (4)
  • 94.2 Pace (13)
  • 76 DRB% (7)
  • 0.542 TS% (10)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • LaMarcus Aldridge 23.3 ppg
  • LaMarcus Aldridge 10.5 rpg
  • Damian Lillard 6.2 apg
  • Robin Lopez 1.6 bpg
  • Damian Lillard 1.3 spg

Ranks

  • 110.7 ORTG (4)
  • 107.3 DRTG (23)
  • 93.4 Pace (19)
  • 73.2 DRB% (24)
  • 0.549 TS% (6)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • DeMar DeRozan 18.9 ppg
  • Jonas Valanciunas 8.6 rpg
  • Kyle Lowry 6.9 apg
  • James Johnson 1.1 bpg
  • Kyle Lowry 1.6 spg

In A Bubble vs. The Big Picture:

Normally, as opposed to fixating on a single game’s impact, I would lean more towards the broader representation; in the grand scheme of things, whether or not progress is shown is what truly should receive the most attention.

But when you consider only 17 contests remain before the do-or-die mentality sets in (otherwise known as the NBA playoffs), exceptions to that rule are present, and both scales of judgment are worthy of equal footing.

Amidst Toronto’s recent downward-spiral, a few bright spots rose from the carnage. Specifically referring to the fundamentally sound first-half in OKC, and the second-half uprising in San Antonio. Both of which led to the four-quarter display finally making its long-awaited return. Let’s just hope Friday the 13th marked a positive omen for the rest of the stretch run instead of its usual evil nature.

Those head-scratching splits in also adhere to a larger problem. Sustainability against the league’s upper-tier has essentially been non-existent. The rest of the Association’s top teams (I still place Toronto in that category) manage to scout and adjust to the Raps game-plan (or lack thereof) with relative ease. Although, there is plenty to be said about T.O. free-styling their game scripts to make the opponents job that much easier.

Here is where the bubble comes into play. As much as the season’s grind should be taken into account, there really is no excuse if a repeat performance doesn’t come to pass against Portland. A notch in the win column is not what we’re after, rather a duplicate showing in the concerted effort department is what’s now bordering around an absolute must.

There is no “second night of a back-to-back” excuse waiting in the wings, no long-distance travel lag to act as their built-in defence; comforts of home are in full effect. With motivating factors already in place, anything less than a gritty 48-minute attitude is simply unacceptable. Inconsistencies are expected, but it’s time act accordingly.

Kyle Lowry, Damian Lillard

Point Of Attack:

It’s been brewing since Charlotte, but nothing says redemption like flirting with a quadruple-double. K-Low has put up stat-lines of 19 points, 8 boards, and 8 dimes before, but throw in 7 swipes on top, and you have the potential of Lowry’s re-awakening coming full circle.

Pick your poison when placing past blame. Overuse, undisclosed injuries, a gambler’s mindset, or my personal choice of criticism: lazy contentment on both ends. Well, old school K-Low is trending back in style.

The spark of desire is back, you can see it. How many people loved his outburst in Texas? Demanding the all-out effort! I would venture to suggest not a soul disapproved. Even Spurs’ fans has to be impressed.

Portland holds the uncanny ability to control the game’s tempo, relying heavily on snub turned eventual All-Star Damian Lillard; DL sits 5th in minutes per game. A skill-set that also comes attached with an 8th overall Offensive Win Share rating of 6.1, and a 7th overall Total Win Share rating of 9.1. Two stat realms that K-Low has previously travelled.

But that game management is unique. The Blazers rank a pedestrian 29th in Total Free-Throw Attempts, one spot above the docile Knicks. At the same time, they also limit their opponents to the fourth least trips to the stripe.

That original version of Lowry must now soar to new heights. The clutch factor is seemingly back. and so is the dirty work, but by no means is this No.7 circa late-November, early-December. Not only does Portland’s lock on its lane need to be picked for Toronto to prevail, but in order to capitalize on above-par showings in 8 of the team’s last 12 quarters, an overall improvement must take place.

Astonishingly, KL made a grand total a zero trips to the line against Miami. And in six of nine games since the break, he’s clipped well below his season and career averages (4.6 and 3.9).

You’re beginning to set the tone once again Lowry, trade in the unwarranted jumpers for a new lease on life. Your best Steve Nash/Tony Parker impression is needed, it’s time to install under the rim penetration.

Miscellaneous Items:

  • A page needs to be taken out Bebe’s D-League debut last night, not to mention it being deserving of a shout-out in its own right. To put it mildly: 18 points, 19 boards, and 4 blocks isn’t exactly reflective of what will translate on the big stage. But in only 27 minutes of action, Nogueira was active on both ends of transition all night long, something the Raps’ bigs need to take heed of. If this keeps up, could Bebe receive a little late-season action? With the way Casey runs his ship, that could be wishful thinking. But a story is potentially beginning here.
  • After taking the night off for the birth of his child, Jonas Valanciunas will be back in the lineup. And the watch over his minutes, defensive prowess, and involvement in this offence resumes right along with it. With the Blazers ranking 5th overall in Total Rebounds (19th on the offensive side), and a lowly 28th when it comes to Points In The Paint Per Game, JV’s presence should be welcomed back with open arms and used to its advantage. Even when the LarMarcus Aldridge matchup rears its unsavoury head, while LA channels his inner Al Horford and strays outside the paint, the recommendation is to allow JV to play through the pain of checking him. I will reiterate the banging drum, Valanciunas is no longer at a point where a view from the bench will aid his development, on the job learning is now at the forefront.
  • The heart of Portland’s minimal production on the offensive glass speaks to similarities between these two teams. Portland and Toronto rank 6th and 9th, and 3rd and 9th, in 3-point attempts and 3PAr (3-point attempt rate) respectively. Both employ a go-for-broke philosophy. But let’s keep in perspective, the Blazers install a far more structured system when taking into consideration the effectiveness of each. A 5th to 15th disparity exists in the percentage category.
  • The recent loss of Wesley Matthews should see that gradually decline, but a 52 percent clip against the Pistons on Friday reveals plenty of backup. Let us not forget about the ball-moving edge, once again held by the Blazers. This time a 9th to 21st discrepancy occurs. But you don’t have to inquire very far for a renewed sense of optimism. However, only when this kind of rock-sharing exists with JV as an active participant will the Raps ascend to the next level.

   

Predictions:

To quote Dazed And Confused‘s Mr. Payne: “It’s like our sergeant told us before one trip into the jungle…’Men! 50 of you are leaving on a mission. 25 of you ain’t coming back!”

One game does not act as a reprisal of good fortune, and it will take a hell of a lot more than just Friday’s fundamentals to restore complete faith. On the other hand, it does make for a little good will gesture.

With Lowry trending north, and prone to somewhat streaky play, pencil him into your Daily Fantasy lineups. It’s time for the Raps to stop taking what’s given to them, and become the bully.

That faith is dwindling, but it still resides. I can see the Quick React now: Blazers 109, Raptors 111 – In Overtime Thriller Part-Two!

There’s more at stake this time around. So, No More Mr. Nice Guy, Toronto. Please and thank you.

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