Toronto Raptors vs Portland Trail Blazers preview, start time & more

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Coming back with a 94-83 win over the Houston Rockets in their first scrum on Friday night, the Raptors are now focused on tonight’s game, the Portland Trail Blazers.

Like the Raptors, this will be the second of those scrums for the Blazers. Portland narrowly fell to the Indiana Pacers, 91-88, in what was clearly a no-stakes contest in their opener.

This will technically be the third meeting between the two teams. They’ve already met twice in the regular season – yes, that same regular season – sharing their season streak. In a mid-November tilt, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet set the home team on fire, scoring 36 points, six rebounds and 30 points, seven assists, respectively, for a convincing 114-106 dub. In the second leg in early January, the Blazers edged the Raptors by a two-point margin, stealing the 101-99 victory after a winning pull-up by Carmelo Anthony from the free throw line.

With only a day off from their opponents who had the last two days off, the upcoming competition will be another opportunity for the Raptors to familiarize themselves with the pace of the game in preparation for a long playoff series.

Meanwhile, the Blazers must make the most of every game as they continue their battle for a playoff spot. Portland currently sits ninth in the Western Conference, 29-37 – 3.5 games behind eighth-place Memphis Grizzlies. If they hold onto their spot and find themselves four games away from eighth place, a series of play-ins between No.8 and No.9 will ensue. A probable scenario to say the least.

Oh, and the Raptors are the Home Team Designate again, so expect a lot from the “We The North” brand, “Let’s Go Raptors!” crowd prompts and awkward Tangerine promotional video panels. Here are the rest of the details for tonight – including four things to watch out for.

Where to watch:

Sportsnet at 6:00 p.m. EST

Programming:

Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka

Portland – Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Trevor Ariza, Carmelo Anthony, Hassan Whiteside

Injuries:

Toronto – None.

Portland – Hassan Whiteside (day to day – Achilles pain), Trevor Ariza (match-time decision – groin), Nassir Little (absent – concussion protocol), Rodney Hood (absent – Achilles tendon), Caleb Swanigan (excluded from Orlando Bubble).

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Depth and time management

The Raptors went 15-deep in Friday night’s game with only Marc Gasol and Patrick McCaw missing the action. Even Dewan Hernandez and Paul Watson had floor time and defensive advice each. After a sales-plagued start – which was to be expected – the Raptors overcame an early 12-point deficit with an impressive move, as if they’d never missed a beat.

Meanwhile, in their contest, the Trail Blazers played out their starting lineup in the first and third quarters, with the bench touching ground in the second and fourth. Forgoing the game for a full bench rotation in the final frame resulted in the loss, but the starting lineup was almost unstoppable in the opening quarter. The Blazers shot 60 percent from the ground, to take a 29-20 lead – 14 of those points came in the paint.

It will be interesting to see if Nick Nurse and Terry Stotts stick with their early game strategies, or change things up after seeing how their players fared.

Skinny Marc meets Skinny Melo

The long-awaited emergence of Marc Gasol, otherwise known as ‘Skinny Marc’, is set to take place tonight as Nick Nurse has ensured his starting center will definitely make an appearance.

Since images of his much leaner body have surfaced, fans have been anticipating Gasol’s return to the pitch to see the results of his new physique.

Gasol’s health has been a frustration all season. After winning an NBA Championship with the Raptors and then a FIBA ​​World Championship with Spain a few months later, Gasol was in desperate need of a break. If you think about it, it’s been a long time since he was traded from the Grizzlies in February 2019.

The four-month hiatus due to the pandemic gave the Spaniard just that, allowing him to focus on his diet, putting him in what appears to be the best form of his life at a pivotal moment for the franchise .

But with one lean player comes another.

After spending much of the season as a free agent and then finding a home with Portland, Carmelo Anthony underwent a massive transformation arriving in the bubble.

A graduate of “Hoodie Melo”, the three-time Olympic gold medalist and 17-year NBA veteran has been wildly identified as “Skinny Melo”. It looks like the weight loss plan took place before the break, after Stotts made adjustments to the roster with Anthony’s intention to move up to the small front position.

You can expect a showdown between Melo and OG Anunoby to take shape. There will definitely be a bad taste in the Raptors forward’s mouth after Melo knocked down the game winner against him in their last game. But if Anunoby has a similar performance tonight as he did on Friday against the Rockets – stopping James Harden on multiple occasions – then Melo is having a long rushed night.

Container Lillard and watch McCollum

After facing the NBA’s top performing backcourt at James Harden and Russell Westbrook (61.9 points per game), the Raptors now look to the league’s third-best scoring, and arguably the most consistent backcourt. , Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

There’s no doubt that the key to tonight’s game will be containing Lillard, but just as important is not to forget about his criminal partner, McCollum. The duo have averaged 51.4 points per game this season and are known for hitting late punches and enduring unstoppable goal flurries.

Beyond that, Lillard has been on a tear this season, leading the league in offensive winning shares with 8.9 and offensive over / under with 7.9, while playing 36.9 minutes per game. That has given him career highs this season in points per game (28.9), assists per game (7.8) and field goal percentage (.457) on 20 shooting attempts per game.

And when Lillard is away, McCollum is almost always ready to resume the effort. The seven-year veteran is also averaging highs in points and assists per game at 22.5 and 4.3, respectively, and will be a handful when the Raptors’ defensive rotation might have their sights set elsewhere.

Expect to see more Lowry charges – yes, we all should have seen him coming, even in a scrum – and, a nurse using both Lowry and VanVleet in potentially a box-one or triangle-and-two defensive scheme. to slow down the Blazers.

Battle in the paint

As I mentioned earlier, the Blazers lost 14 paint points in the first quarter in just their first scrum. Much of this is due in part to the return of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins.

After more than a year on leave, Nurkic returned to the pitch after a horrific leg injury in March 2019, as Collins had been out since Game 3 of the season with a dislocated shoulder. Their comeback couldn’t have come at a better time for Portland with Hassan Whiteside sitting down due to an Achilles strain.

But the Raptors are also tall and there is no shortage of them.

Early in Friday night’s game, Serge Ibaka and OG Anunoby ran to the floor, connecting on back door cuts leading to easy layups and dunks. Ibaka looked as dynamic and agile as ever, running the field for transition plays from coast to coast, while Anunoby abused the three-point baseline on several occasions.

By adjusting their depth, Chris Boucher continues to be an effective shot blocker and will be called upon to modify shot attempts, while Rondae Hollis-Jefferson can be found virtually anywhere on the floor. Boucher was good for two blocks on Friday’s game-high, while Hollis-Jefferson grabbed eight tables in just 15 minutes.

That being said, like their first scrum, this game won’t carry much weight. But it will be fun to see what both sides are trying to achieve.

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