Team Records: Toronto (25-21) at Portland (33-13)
Game Info: 7 PM-TV on CSNNW, Radio on 620 AM.
Vegas Line: Portland -7
Refs: Bill Spooner, Derek Richardson, Gary Zielinski
The Skinny: After sustaining their worst loss of the season Tuesday against the Grizzlies ended a very bush stretch of games, Portland returns to the court following three days off to face a much improved Raptors team. Since trading Rudy Gay on December 9, the Raptors are 18-8. Toronto comes into this game fresh off an impressive win in Denver Friday and will not be an easy foe for the Blazers Saturday night.
Last Time They Met: After the Blazers blew a 17-point lead in regulation and Toronto forced OT, Lillard and Batum took over, scoring 13 of the team’s 16 in overtime as the Blazers overcome the Raptors 116-108 in OT. Lillard and Alridge both had 25 points to lead a balanced Blazers attack in the victory.
Projected Raptors Lineup:
PF-Amir Johnson (Westchester (HS)-9th Season) 10.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.2 APG.
SF-DeMar Derozan (USC-5th Season)-21.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 3.6 APG.
C-Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania-2nd Season)- 10.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG, .7 APG
SG-Terrence Ross (Washington-2nd Season)-10.3 PPG, 3.4 RPG, .9 APG.
PG-Kyle Lowry (Villanova-8th Season)-16.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 7.6 APG.
Player to Watch-Kyle Lowry (Pictured at right)-Every year there are a few players who deserve to be in the all star game but aren’t. Last year it was Steph Curry, a few years ago it was LaMarcus Aldridge and this year it is Kyle Lowry. Lowry has been simply sensational this year, posting career highs in every single category except rebounds and increasing his shooting prowess as well. Lowry has improved from a marginal shooter, making only 40% of his attempts last season, to at least a decent one, making 44% of his attempts and, most critically perhaps, 41% of his 3 point attempts. Lowry also turns the ball over very rarely for a starting point guard and is a decent enough defender. He may not be the best in the NBA but he certainly deserved an all-star bid and you can expect him to come out angry Saturday and try and show that he was wrongly snubbed.
Did You Know?: DeMar DeRozan recently became the fourth Toronto Raptor to be named to the East All-Star team. The other three are Vince Carter (5x), Chris Bosh (5x) and Antonio Davis (Once)
Song of the Day: “Underground Kings” by Drake-The Raptors recently held a Drake night and so it seemed appropriate to use one of this Toronto-born artist’s songs. Enjoy:
Toronto: Out-SF Landry Fields (Wrist)
Re-Evaluating Toronto: Addition by Subtraction
When the Raptors traded Rudy Gay on December 9, the prevailing assumption was that this meant the Raptors were definitely tanking again since they were trading their high scorer just to get more cap flexibility next offseason. Instead, the Raptors have gone 18-8 since the trade and have looked like a far superior team than before the trade. The improvement hasn’t only been on offense, where Gay’s absence has meant that the scoring load is spread, allowing Kyle Lowry and others to find the open player and making Toronto much more difficult to defend. Their defense is also much better as well, moving from awful to slightly above average as of late. Generally speaking its not a good idea to trade away a talented player but sometimes that player is doing more harm than good to the team’s chances to win. Thus was apparently the case with Rudy Gay and now that Toronto is without him, they are a playoff team for sure and look to be the third best team out east this season.
The Bottom Line:
Portland wins if: They hold Toronto under 100 points. Toronto may be improved on defense but they are not as good as they numbers would indicate. If the Blazers score 100, they should prevail.
Toronto wins if: They limit Portland’s 3 point makes. The keys to most Blazers win this year has been timely three point makes. If Toronto can limit that Saturday, they should win.