All-Star 2016

Pre-game news & notes: DeRozan considered dunk contest, Vonleh out for Blazers

The Toronto Raptors are in one of my favorite cities on Thursday to take on the Portland Trail Blazers at 10 p.m. on TSN.

It should be a fun one, as the spry Blazers are blowing expectations away. Led by All-Star snub Damian Lillard (#YellowTape), personal Most Improved prediction C.J. McCollum (who will reportedly be in the skills competition All-Star weekend), and former beloved Raptor Boss Davis, the Blazers stand as the eight-seed in the Western Conference at 24-26. It may not be realistic to expect them to finish so high, but head coach Terry Stotts (and assistant Jay Triano!) have the Blazers eighth in offense and 20th in defense, hardly an easy out.

Raptors updates
The Raptors will also be shorthanded as they try to steal one in Rip City. DeMarre Carroll remains out, James Johnson joins him indefinitely, and the Raptors are hoping to limit Kyle Lowry’s minutes moving forward (yeah, right). Norman Powell stands to draw the start once again, though that role is “fluid,” in the words of head coach Dwane Casey. Bruno Caboclo remains with Raptors 905, on his way to Texas.

The rotation will look something like this:

PG: Lowry, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright
SG: Powell, Terrence Ross
SF: DeMar DeRozan
PF: Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson, Anthony Bennett
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo, Lucas Nogueira

Blazers update
Noah Vonleh, who has begun to show signs of delivering a return on the immense promise that made him a 2014 lottery pick, was doubtful due to an ankle injury. He’s out, per Casey Holdahl. Everyone else is good to go, leaving the rotation looking something like this:

PG: Lillard, Tim Frazier
SG: McCollMeMaybe, Raptor Killer Gerald Henderson, Allen Crabbe
SF: How Could You Be Mo Harkless, Two-Sport Stud Pat Connaughton, Poor Man’s Bruno Luis Montero
PF: Al-Farouq AminuMeyers Leonard, Cliff Alexander
C: Mason Plumlee, Boss Davis, Air Sasquatch

I might be overtired. Sorry for that.

DeRozan & Lillard team up
Under the Spalding brand, DeRozan and Lillard have teamed up for a campaign called #TrueBelievers, looking to highlight those with “the uncompromising confidence needed to defy all odds.” Both players participated in a live Periscope Q&A last night, and “digital takeovers” are expected in the future.

I’m not really sure what any of this means – SLAM has more – but more exposure for DeRozan can’t hurt. He’s deserved some additional endorsement love with the work he’s put in over seven years to improve to this level.

Still mad at DeRozan, though
DeRozan told Wolstat on Thursday that he was thinking of entering the Dunk Contest but decided at the last minute not to. WHAT?? The Dunk Contest field is lit, but it won’t have a Toronto or Canadian representative, and while DeRozan’s correct that Powell should have been in it, the fact that we’re missing out on DeRozan sucks.

DeRozan participated in 2010 and 2011, losing to Nate Robinson and Blake Griffin, respectively. He showed well in the process, and while 26 is a bit on the old side for Dunk Contest participants in recent years, he could have been the impetus for more established players to begin finding their way back. He also would have become just the 15th player to appear in three showdowns.

I agree with DeRozan, by the way, that LaVine is going to win and “good luck to everybody else.”

You can check out the full list of All-Star weekend participants here. That includes Lowry in the 3-Point Shootout.

Billy Donovan compares Draymond Green to Lowry
Here’s a cool quote from the Thunder coach comparing Green playing the five to Lowry playing some power forward in college.

The Line
The Raptors are two-point underdogs, the first time they’ve been underdogs since Jan. 8 on the road against Washington. That’s a pretty impressive 11-game streak of being favored that speaks to both the relatively easy schedule of late and the general public buy-in to the way the Raptors are playing. Portland standing as a favorite (and moving from a one-point favorite) speaks to the Raptors playing their third road game in four nights and Portland having won nine of their last 11. Portland’s really struggled to beat good teams, though.

So…let’s be optimistic, eh? I mean, my local LCBO finally got my favorite beer, Fat Tug IPA from Victoria, so today’s a good day.

Toronto 105, Portland 101

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