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Pre-Game

Gameday: Raptors @ Trail Blazers, Dec. 14

Earlier this year, for the first time in their history, the Raptors swept the vaunted west-coast road trip. Going 4-0, largely on the back of the still scalding hot, Kyle Lowry. At 23-7 and with the back-to-back swept, the Raptors are trying to do it again. First up in the latter half of the road trip is the Portland Trailblazers. For their part, the Blazers have thrown the kitchen sink at their season. They come out punching most nights, and play a style that maximizes their three standout players: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic.

Somehow the Blazers have fallen out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference after starting the year 12-6 and leading the conference at one point. 3-7 in their last 12 and looking for a statement win vs. the league’s resident bad*****. The Blazers invite the Raptors – who may or may not have Kawhi Leonard – into the Moda Center to do battle.

In years past the Raptors generally fared well against the Blazers, on account of a very big post-oriented guard who could dominate the Blazers smaller guards. With that player no longer on the squad, the matchup could play out much different. If Leonard isn’t able to go, Danny Green moves up to the wing and suddenly McCollum and Lillard can put Lowry and VanVleet in tough positions because of their height.

The scrappy back court out of Toronto of the last two games has been terrific, and quite frankly dominant in their unique way. Primed for a matchup with one of the league’s best backcourts and ready to fight fire with fire. Lillard and Lowry specifically, play much different out of the pick n’ roll. Lowry, bouncing the ball wide, looking to create a chasm of space for his big men to charge into. Lillard, begging his defender to go under the screen, ready as ever to put on up from downtown. Should his defender chase, Lillard wants the rim and he races towards it. Lowry sidles the ball, keeping every passing slot open, waiting for the dive.

The only chance of mirroring in this game went out the door when Jonas Valanciunas got injured. Serge Ibaka is terrific, but he’s a much different player than Nurkic. It might not be such a bad thing that Ibaka gets extended minutes tonight. Nurkic isn’t exactly fleet of foot, and Ibaka might be the player league-wide who can best punish a dropping big man. The king of the short-roll, look for ma fuzzy to dominate this game early.

The real test, like in Golden State, comes when the Blazers start dropping out of the pick n’ roll on defense. Is Lowry’s jumper all the way back? Can he punish teams like he has before? I guess we’ll see, but the remedy that came about in Golden State – Danny Green post-ups – doesn’t seem as likely an answer in Portland.

Hopefully there’s some clever tinkering by Coach Nurse. I’d expect a lot of minutes with the bench from Pascal Siakam in this one, and hopefully some good OG Anunoby minutes with Lowry. The Blazers are quite thin on the wings and it would go a long way if Anunoby could turn it up on a night without Leonard.

All of this is of course worthless if Leonard is playing tonight. If so, let the big dog eat, and hopefully we all get to see a game where Lowry and Leonard coalesce in superstardom, as those have been rare treats this year. Lillard is coming off what might’ve been his worst game of the season, and hopefully the Raptors aren’t a stepping stone for his resurgence.

Game Info

TV: Sportsnet One | Radio: TSN 1050 | Tipoff: 10pm EST.  Basketball betting and odds depending heavily on who’s listed as playing, so no odds released yet.

Raptors Updates

Valanciunas (thumb) is in his cast for a month, and will be evaluated after that. Norman Powell (shoulder) is doubtful for this road-trip, but could return for the next home game. Leonard (bruised hip) is questionable. Chris Boucher has been called up to the team – he has 37 eligible days – to step into a depth role in the front-court.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Lorenzo Brown
SG: Fred VanVleet, Malachi Richardson
SF: Danny Green, OG Anunoby, CJ Miles
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Serge Ibaka, Greg Monroe, Chris Boucher

Blazers Updates

Maurice Harkless returns to the line-up tonight.

PG: Damian Lillard, Seth Curry, Wade Baldwin
SG: CJ McCollum, Nik Stauskas, Gary Trent Jr.
SF: Maurice Harkless, Evan Turner, Jake Layman
PF: Al-Farouq Aminu, Caleb Swanigan
C: Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, Meyers Leonard

Hopefully we’ll be 24-7 and well on our way to another west coast sweep.

Have a blessed day.

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