I hope the Raptors have enjoyed their day off, but it’s time for those exhausted gentlemen to get back to work.
Last we saw the Raptors, they were too tired to move, and though they outplayed the Clippers in Los Angeles, missing Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Pat McCaw, and then OG Anunoby, it didn’t end up as a win. There were still plenty of positives.
Though the Raptors are past silver linings as a franchise, there isn’t a huge cost to a loss in the season. The team is still 7-3, tied for second in the East, with huge room for improvement. That they are finally establishing their depth, with pieces like Terence Davis, Chris Boucher, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and others finally notching positive stints, is the most positive result possible of an injury. Furthermore, Kawhi Leonard seemed more shaken by the hookup with his ex than the Raptors. Leonard set his career high with nine turnovers, as Toronto made his life extremely difficult. His teammates did him few favours, as outside of Lou Williams, there wasn’t a lot of scoring ability to go around. One would hope that, despite the loss, Leonard had some pangs imaging what if with this Toronto team.
But the Clippers are in the rear-view mirror, and next up is the Portland Trailblazers. At 4-7, they’re one of the most underachieving teams in the league, but they boast one Damian Lillard. Lillard is one of the leading MVP candidates this year, averaging 33.0 points, 6.8 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 0.5 blocks per game on ridiculously efficient 49.3/39.2/90.9 splits. He’s a superstar at the peak of his game, and he displays total mastery of the other nine players on the offensive end. His shooting, attacking, passing, and court control are unparalleled by any healthy player in the NBA, at least so far this season.
Good thing the Raptors have Fred VanVleet on the roster, one of the best defensive guards in the NBA. (Seriously, I’m going to increase the volume of my praise for VanVleet’s defense until I’m shouting at the top of my keyboard that he should win defensive player of the year, and even then I probably won’t be wrong.)
The matchup between Lillard and VanVleet will be one of the most important in the game, as they are numbers one and two, respectively, in minutes per game, and they both have among the highest net ratings on their teams. If VanVleet can harangue Lillard into a poor game, for his standards, then that would pretty well signify a victory for the visitors.
Tuesday night aside, CJ McCollum has been mired in a terrible slump to start the season. Though Toronto is susceptible to midrange-heavy guards, like McCollum, don’t expect him to break out against the Raptors’ physical defense. Though Hood has been on a hot streak to start the season, the Blazers haven’t had a ton of support for Lillard in the scoring column. Furthermore, they’ll be on the second leg of a back-to-back, so fatigue may not be a problem that uniquely plagues Toronto.
Sam Folk predicted Lowry would feast against Hassan Whiteside’s porous pick-and-roll defense in last week’s Black Box Report, and of course that was before Lowry went down with injury. Whether Toronto’s roster of patchwork guard initiators can do the same will heavily inform Toronto’s offensive efficiency. If VanVleet, Terence Davis, Matt Thomas, and Norm Powell can initiate Toronto’s offense quickly and efficiently, creating good looks for teammates while still threatening the defense, it will bode extremely well for Toronto. If not, Pascal Siakam always exists as a bail-out. The Blazers’ defense has been awful on the season, and they don’t have a forward with an athletic profile remotely close to Siakam’s. It’s possible that Rodney Hood starts as Siakam’s primary defender, and that would be akin to BDSM. Anthony Tolliver would fare no better. Hood and Tolliver have the two worst defensive ratings among Portland’s rotation players, and I doubt they shift their starting lineup just to match up with Siakam.
The Raptors may be short-handed, and they may be deep into a difficult West Coast road trip, and they may be exhausted after two emotionally taxing Los Angeles games, but they still have plenty of advantages going into this one.
Tipoff: 10:00pm EST | TV: TSN | Radio: TSN 1050
Kyle Lowry (thumb), Patrick McCaw (knee), Ibaka (ankle), and OG Anunoby (eye) are ruled out. There has been little information released about Anunoby, but the team is calling it a right eye contusion. He saw a specialist in Los Angeles on Tuesday, and he’s been wearing both a patch over his eye and blackout sunglasses.
PG: Fred VanVleet, Terence Davis II
SG: Norman Powell, Matt Thomas
SF: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Stanley Johnson, Malcolm Miller
PF: Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher
C: Marc Gasol, Dewan Hernandez
Trail Blazers UPDATES
Rodney Hood is day-to-day with a back injury. He was expected to play on Tuesday before he was a late scratch, so expect him to go in this one. Zach Collins (shoulder), Jusuf Nurkic (leg), and Pau Gasol (foot) are all out.
PG: Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons
SG: CJ McCollum, Kent Bazemore, Gary Trent Jr.
SF: Rodney Hood, Mario Hezonja, Nassir Little
PF: Anthony Tolliver, Skal Labissiere
C: Hassan Whiteside
Portland -3. They’re at home, and Toronto is beat up, so in theory I get it. Still, I really don’t think that’s a good line. I would have the Raptors as favourites, given team records and how poorly the Blazers match up against the Raptors.