There’s never really a good time to be down a key player, let alone multiple key players, during the course of an NBA season. There are times, though, when it could be more damaging than others. For example: In the middle of a two-week road-trip. Or for another example: When it’s a player – or multiple players! – who fit a matchup particularly well. These things happen and probably even out over 82 games (or even six, considering the number of opponent absences we’ve already witnessed this year), but that’s not exactly comforting in the moment.
All of that is to say, the Toronto Raptors could be in tough as they visit the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night. The Blazers may not the the biggest team in the NBA, but they play big, with Jusuf Nurkic bullying up the middle and a gang-oriented approach to rebounds helping them play up in size. Portland ranks first in the NBA in offensive rebounding and fifth on their own glass, and so they’re a bad team to be missing a pair of frontcourt starters against, even with Nurkic not exactly starting the year out on fire.
The Raptors will be down two bigs, maybe three for this matchup, and they’ll need to shift their mentality around the boards to steal a win at Moda Center. What’s more, Portland doesn’t play well into Toronto’s other means of success, the transition game – the Blazers turn the ball over less frequently than all but one other team, and because they’re an elite offensive rebounding outfit, it will be tough for Toronto to get out and run off of misses comfortably. There are edges to gain, like Portland’s proclivity for sending teams to the line, but there’s big pressure on the team’s impressive young frontcourt pieces to deliver against a physical opponent here. They’ve looked up to the challenge through five games, so this should be a nice test.
At the very least, they got to hit up the Nike company store in Portland today. I’ll take a personal L to get to do that shopping spree any day.
The game tips off at 10 on TSN and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.
As noted off the top, the Raptors are down a bunch of bigs. Jonas Valanciunas will miss a fourth consecutive game with a sprained left ankle, leaving him just two games to reach his goal of returning at some point on this road trip. There’s little sense in pushing him so early in the season, so the cautious approach to his return makes plenty of sense.
Joining him on the sideline will be Serge Ibaka, who is dealing with swelling in his right knee, per Josh Lewenberg. That is…a little concerning. Ibaka played without any reported issues on Friday and the team had two days off since, so his knee flaring up now would seem less than ideal. It’s possible he banged or tweaked it in a practice or against the Lakers, or that the team is just managing any indication of injury with caution here in October. Which, again, makes plenty of sense. Ibaka and Valanciunas are too important to where this team eventually wants to be to put them at risk for the sake of forging chemistry early and winning the sixth game of the year.
Ibaka's knee apparently started swelling after the game in Los Angeles. They don't know exactly how he injured it.
— Mike Ganter (@Mike_Ganter) October 31, 2017
That means the Raptors will be relying heavily on the young trio of Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, and OG Anunoby, three of the best stories of the young season so far. Poeltl has been one of the team’s best all-around players, Siakam jumped from the end of the bench into a contributing starting role the last two games, and Anunoby has exceeded early expectations. That’s a lot of youth being relied on for one game, but it’s youth that’s shown capable so far. This is obviously a much bigger test. Lucas Nogueira may or may not be able to fill out that rotation, as he’s listed as questionable with a sprained ankle that’s cost him the last two games. Who starts probably comes down to how far Dwane Casey is willing to go to preserve his bench unit – Poeltl makes the most sense regardless and will start if Nogueira is out, while Nogueira could draw back into the starting lineup if Casey wants to maintain his rotations.
Check back before tip-off for an update on Nogueira and the starting lineup.
UPDATE: Nogueira is back and starting. It’s great that he’s able to play, and starting him is justifiable to keep the bench in tact and to throw an extra body and more fouls at Nurkic. Poeltl “deserves” it in a vacuum where the best five players start, but this is about maximizing the 10-man rotation,and this should give Poeltl an advantage against what’s often been a smaller Portland bench.
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: Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
OUT: Jonas Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka
905: Malcolm Miller, Lorenzo Brown
Trail Blazers updates
The Blazers won’t be feeling any amount of bad for the Raptors, down four players of their own. Noah Vonleh is on the mend from a shoulder strain but won’t play here, Meyers Leonard is out a few weeks longer with an ankle sprain, Wade Baldwin will be rehabbing a thumb injury a while longer, and C.J. Wilcox is coming off of knee surgery and still recovering. (Yeah, that’s a tough start for the team’s pair of two-way players, unable to get NBA days logged while the team’s banged up because they, too, are hurt).
The losses have caused Terry Stotts to tighten his rotation some nights, and he only played nine players last time out. That included ditching a back-up point guard altogether against Phoenix and letting C.J. McCollum and Evan Turner share those duties. Ed Davis is the lone big seeing regular run off the bench, with Caleb Swanigan and Zach Collins flipping the fourth frontcourt job around some. Really, you can bank on a top eight here and then a lot of gut feel and playing the hot hand at the end of the rotation, which makes sense for a banged-up team with a young second unit. Sounds familiar, right?
PG: Damian Lillard, Shabazz Napier
SG: C.J. McCollum, Pat Connaughton
SF: Maurice Harkless, Evan Turner, Jake Layman
PF: Al-Farouq Aminu, Ed Davis, Caleb Swanigan
C: Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins
OUT: C.J. Wilcox, Meyers Leonard, Wade Baldwin IV, Noah Vonleh
G-League (no affiliate): None
- Raptors 905 are presently closing out their preseason against the Erie Bayhawks at Hershey Centre. The 905 lost to London of the NBL on Saturday. They have until Thursday to make their final cuts and then begin their title defense in earnest on Sunday at 1 p.m. on the road.
- The Raptors are obviously away from home for a while, but later this month we’re giving away another pair of tickets with InTheActionSeats.com:
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) October 21, 2017
- A cool note from ESPN here in looking at the international talent in the NBA – not only are the Raptors based in Canada (obviously), but they’red tied with Utah for the most international players in the NBA, at seven: OG Anunoby, Bruno Caboclo, Serge Ibaka, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, and Jonas Valanciunas.
Toronto – Multicultural on and off the court.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) October 30, 2017
The Raptors opened as 2-point underdogs and the line has since moved to Raptors +3.5, likely due to the Ibaka and Valanciunas updates. The over-under has dropped from 215.5 to 212.