Gameday: Trail Blazers @ Raptors, March 1

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Dec 15, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic (27) drives to the basket as Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) defends during the second half at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Just two nights ago we were celebrating with our new friends from Portland over their defeat of the Boston Celtics, which we can all agree is a satisfying outcome to any basketball game, but our recent friends the Trail Blazers are once again our enemies as of today.

Following victories against Golden State, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Cleveland (wins against Cleveland shouldn’t count) and Boston, the Blazers come into Toronto riding a hot streak and looking to extend their season best winning streak to six games.  While their overall statistical profile is a little mixed, Portland remains consistently dangerous and able to beat anyone on any given night.

In many ways it feels like the Raptors are playing the old version of themselves.  A team built around a star duo in the backcourt, with a low assist percentage (54.4 percent, good for 26th in the NBA), a cast of misfits/castoffs/young potential surrounding their stars, recent playoff disappointment having been swept by a lower seed, and one of the league’s best offences at 112.6 points per 100 possessions (5th in NBA).

The Blazers are just a better version of the Raptors from 2015-2018.

Heck, there are even some similarities statistically to the Raptors of this season.

  • As mentioned earlier, Portland has the 5th ranked offensive rating in the NBA at 112.6. The Raptors are just behind them at 112.4.
  • Portland plays at a pace of 100.11, with the Raptors just slightly faster at a near identical 100.62.

The Blazers put pressure on defense in a variety of ways.  Both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have the ability to stretch the floor from deep or to attack off the dribble.  They are dynamic guards that need to be watched at all times.  Portland also does an excellent job of protecting the basketball with low turnovers, in part due to being among the league’s worst in regards to passes made per game.

While we often think of Portland as a high volume three point shooting team due to the presence of Lillard and McCollum, they are around league average in attempts per 100 possessions (16th in NBA).  Despite the relatively low volume of attempts they are still among the best in accuracy by shooting 36 percent from long range as a group.  If the Raptors give Portland open looks from deep then the game could get out of hand quickly.

Where the Raptors enter with a distinct advantage is on the defensive side of the ball, where the Blazers are generously an average team (they are worse than the Lakers…which is an indictment).  Nurkic is a solid defender and a great rebounder, and they employ a variety of theoretical but inconsistent defenders like Harkless, Turner (currently out with injury), and Aminu.

But who can say if defence will even be played by either team.  The last meeting between the two in December ended with a 128-122 win by Portland, in a game where the Raptors were without Kyle Lowry.  It was the Blazers bench that did the most damage to the Raptors in that game.

The most intriguing player match-up for tonight will likely be Lowry facing off against Lillard, as both players drive their team success to such a high degree, but a little less celebrated will be the head-to-head battle between Jusuf Nurkic and Marc Gasol.

Nurkic has the Blazers’ second best defensive rating (how is Seth Curry ahead of him???) and their best net rating at +9.4.  He is also the leading rebounder on the league’s second best rebounding team.

Toronto will need Gasol and Ibaka to help limit the impact of Nurkic throughout the evening.  Before Toronto traded for Marc he played the Blazers twice in December as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies.  Through these two games Nurkic and Gasol shared the court for an average of 21.9 minutes, during which Nurkic had a true shooting percentage of just 25.3 percent and a net rating of -3.4.

Unfortunately Nurkic contributed to similar scoring issues for Gasol, who had an even worse true shooting percentage of 7.7 when the two were on the court together.

I have no idea what any of that means, and in all likelihood it means nothing.  Two games isn’t enough of a sample to make any type of definitive statement, but Nurkic and Gasol should see one another for significant time and it could go a long way to determining the winner of tonight’s game.

Prediction: Raptors 123, Trail Blazers 112

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