The Raptors and Blazers play for the second and final time. It’s the third stop of the Raptors seven road trip, while Portland is in the midst of six straight at home. Toronto won the first matchup earlier this month in what I described as a textbook win.
These two teams are on similar paths this season. They are both 12th in their respective conferences which is currently outside the play-in tournament and there is a feeling of disappointment amongst each fanbase. The direction both franchises are taking seems to be unknown. However even a small win streak by either squad could once again spark strong playoff aspirations. The opposite would inspire strong trade discussion before the deadline (Raptors are already here).
Raptors scope (22-28, 12th in East | Offensive rating: 10th | Defensive rating: 20th)
Tough back to back here, with the Raptors going all out in a loss to Golden State last night and losing O.G. Anunoby to a hard fall. Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam both played 40 minutes, with Pascal having one of his worst shooting nights going 8-26. The Raptors followed up arguably their best defensive effort of the season in Sacramento to allowing back cuts, fastbreak points and threes galore against the Warriors. Nurse mentioned that he didn’t think the his team “played worth a darn defensively.” Portland (23rd in pace) doesn’t play at the breakneck pace Golden State does (1st in pace), but the Blazers have the shooting to bury the Raptors if the defensive intensity isn’t there.
As for the offence, look for Jusuf Nurkic (questionable to play) to be exploited as a liability if he faces the Raptors regular lineup. Nurkic “guarded” Scottie Barnes for much of the matchup in Toronto, giving him tons of space in drop coverage that he took advantage of.
However if Precious Achiuwa has to start for a missing Anunoby, Nurkic will probably guard him instead.
Meanwhile VanVleet is enjoying his most consistent stretch of the season, 25-plus points five times in his last six games (28.3 ppg, 7.2 apg on 48/44/100 splits).
Blazers scope (23-25, 12th in West | Offensive rating: 5th | Defensive rating: 23rd)
Portland has had two days off since Damian Lillard’s 60 point explosion vs Utah.
When Dame goes in microwave mode pulling up for 30 footers, perhaps only the Splash Brothers that the Raptors just saw are comparable. Lillard went 21-29 on Wednesday, adding nine threes to pass Vince Carter for sixth on the all time threes made list (2,292). He’s played the least games of anybody in the Top 10. Lillard has had a couple rough games against Nurse’s schemes before, but so did Steph Curry who finally broke the recent hex yesterday. Lillard had 34 points and 8 assists in his meeting vs the Raptors.
Aside from Lillard, Anfernee Simons (a microwave in his own right) and Jerami Grant complete a big three that all average over 21 points. Offence clearly isn’t the problem in Portland though. Until something is done with the Blazers bottom tier defence, this team is going nowhere. And like clockwork, you’ll see Lillard asked the tiresome question on whether he wants to stay.
Tip-Off: 10pm EST | TV: Sportsnet One/4K | Radio: Sportsnet 590
Awaiting an update on O.G. after spraining his left wrist. Hard to see him playing tonight. Dalano Banton (hip) is targeting Monday for a potential return. Old news, but Otto Porter Jr. (toe) is out for the season. Joe Wieskamp’s 10-day contract expired on Thursday.
*possible lineup if Anunoby doesn’t play*
PG: Fred VanVleet, Malachi Flynn
SG: Gary Trent Jr.
SF: Scottie Barnes, Juancho Hernangomez
PF: Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher, Thaddeus Young
C: Precious Achiuwa, Christian Koloko, Khem Birch
Jusuf Nurkic (left calf soreness) and Josh Hart (right hamstring tightness) are questionable. Justise Winslow (left ankle sprain) and Ibou Badji (left knee soreness) are out. Greg Brown III is on G-league assignment.
PG: Damian Lillard, Gary Payton II
SG: Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe, Keon Johnson
SF: Josh Hart, Nassir Little, Jabari Walker
PF: Jerami Grant, Trendon Watford, John Butler Jr.
C: Jusuf Nurkic, Drew Eubanks
The opening line has Portland favoured by five points. The Over/Under is 232.5.
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