The Toronto Raptors continue to produce a strange run of opposing stars (or interesting players, at least) sitting out their meetings. It happened a great deal on the team’s recent home stand and continues once again as they reignite a paused six-game road trip, as the Portland Trail Blazers will be without star guard and replacement-level rapper Damian Lillard.
We’ll get to that more below. We teed things up in great detail earlier, so let’s just dive back in.
The game tips off at 10 p m. on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.
It’s all the usual with the Raptors, as even Bruno Caboclo has been recalled to make it a full healthy 13 on the roster. Fresh from their quick trips home (or wherever), the Raptors reconvened in Portland yesterday, and I believe all 15 on the roster are set to be on the road trip, including those injured. That means no four-game home stand with the 905 for Caboclo or VanVleet. There’s also only one back-to-back on the trip, so expect DeMarre Carroll to play most of the trip, too.
Look for Norman Powell to be called on at some point despite the full rotation, as he’s likely the team’s best option on C.J. McCollum. And yes, the number of times I’ve written “Powell is the best option to guard Opponent X” while suggesting he’ll get just a few minutes in support is…I was going to say funny, but it’s not. At least Dwane Casey is doing a good job finding time for him and managing the rotations, so there’s always hope he’ll be deployed in those spots. He would have been useful against Lillard, too, but if McCollum is the lone threat as an initiator, the Raptors probably have the personnel to get by with a smaller rotation (and there might not be a lot of opportunities to go small given Portland’s size and lack of guard depth).
As for the power forward spot, Dwane Casey’s interview at shootaround made it seem as if the strange recent status quo could continues – Pascal Siakam will start and Patrick Patterson will start the third quarter unless Siakam plays well or has a good matchup. It’s a half-measure, to be sure, but it’s at least better than forcing Siakam as a starter all game, and it’s perhaps a way of improving the play while also still developing Siakam and making sure they don’t have to change things again when presumed starter Jared Sullinger returns and starts (a debate of its own). You all know how I feel about this by now, but I’m not the head coach.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: Pascal Siakam, Patrick Patterson, Bruno Caboclo
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
OUT: Delon Wright, Jared Sullinger
Trail Blazers updates
Whatever is going on with top players from other teams missing games against the Raptors can stop anytime now. Yes, I know it helps the bottom line in terms of wins, but it makes the games a little less fun, a little less of a challenge, and a little less revealing of the true Raptors. In this case, Damian Lillard is out due to a left ankle injury. X-rays on the ankle were negative and he’s considered day-to-day, but he’s missing this one. How, exactly, the Blazers will look without him is hard to figure, as he’s played every game this season, averaged 35.8 minutes, and been a part of every Portland lineup that’s played more than 40 minutes together (all seven of them).
His absence shifts the scoring load further to C.J. McCollum and possibly require some additional playmaking from ‘The Villain’ Evan Turner. Turner, meanwhile, is probable to play through an ankle issue of his own, and Al-Farouq Aminu is likewise probable despite an ailing back. Were I Terry Stotts, I’d probably slide McCollum to the point and start either Crabbe or Turner rather than forcing Napier into a larger workload, and having some extra size on the wing probably wouldn’t hurt given the presence of the East’s leading scorer at the two for Toronto.
UPDATE: It sounds like McCollum will, in fact, work as the primary point guard.
How Could You Be Moe Harkless will probably draw that DeRozan assignment while Crabbe comes in to support on either Raptors guard. If Aminu plays, he could see time on DeRozan, too, which means the Blazers might risk throwing a smaller guard at Carroll or Siakam or even both. They don’t have strong backcourt defenders, so Stotts will need to get creative if the No. 30 defense is going to slow down the No. 1 offense. They do have a size advantage when they go to the bench, though, and the Raptors have been susceptible on the glass, to say the least.
PG: C.J. McCollum, Shabazz Napier
SG: Allan Crabbe, Pat Connaughton
SF: Moe Harkless, Evan Turner, Jake Layman, Tim Quarterman
PF: Al-Farouq Aminu, Meyers Leonard, Noah Vonleh
C: Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis
Assigned: Damian Lillard
TBD: Evan Turner, Al-Farouq Aminu
Out: Festus Ezeli
- Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan remain the most entertaining of duos:
Kyle & DeMar dual interview from shootaround? Sure.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 26, 2016
- Sullinger, by the way, is dribbling and shooting before games, which is encouraging. There remains no official timetable, but the All-Star break remains a logical expectation point to me.
- Bases on social media, Raptors fans have traveled really, really well for this one. It should make for an interesting atmosphere when things get going.
The Raptors are 7.5-point favorites thanks to Portland’s recent struggles (they’ve lost nine of their last 10, while the Raptors have won 13 of 15) and, obviously, the absence of Lillard (which swung the line at least a point after shootaround). That’s a lot of respect for the Raptors on the road in a tough barn, especially if there’s any holiday hangover. The over-under is way up at 216.5, confirming that nobody should expect much elite defense in this one. I want to give Portland some benefit of the doubt, because I like them, I just don’t think they’re very good right now, at least not without their star.
Raptors 110, Trail Blazers 101