Game No. 16: Trail Blazers 94, Raptors 84

In similar fashion to their loss against the Celtics on Wednesday night, the Raptors dug too big an early hole against the Blazers and saw a good run during the middle of the ball game fall short. While they kept it much closer than the 23-point spread in Boston, the Raptors still weren’t really in this game past the midway point of the first quarter, other than maybe one part of the third quarter.

LaMarcus Aldridge was simply a man amongst boys in this one, and the Raptors failed to contain him.

Now here are six thoughts on the game:

1- A great crowd. You will not find many markets in the NBA that can pack 17,537 people into an arena with a 4-11 team. Just look at places like Philadelphia and Atlanta, big American cities with currently competitive teams, for proof. The Raptors haven’t had great home crowds since their home opener sell out, and I definitely wasn’t expecting a large crowd to watch the good, yet unspectacular Blazers. Seeing the Air Canada Centre pretty full and housing a vocal and passionate crowd was nice to see. The fans were into the game early, booed when the Raptors looked like an elementary school team in the first half, gave them a nice ovation when they finally decided to show up, and really stayed active and alert all game. It’s a shame they didn’t get a good contest for their efforts.

2- I mentioned the booing in the first half. Believe me, it was very well deserved by the home side. No one really expects this team to compete for a playoff spot or to beat teams like the Blazers, but they do expect an honest effort on both ends of the floor. There were stretches of the first and second quarters where Raptor players were clearly just going through the motions on offence, running at half-speed with their arms glued to their side, totally unprepared to accept a pass or get involved in the action. It was hideous to watch. For more on this offensive offence, check out Blake Kennedy’s excellent post from earlier on Friday.

3- If you’re going to have a horrible shooting night in the NBA, as the Raptors did on Friday night (36.6 per cent), then you better have a good night rebounding the ball, or you’re in trouble. As you can probably deduce by now, the Raptors did not have a good night on the glass, either. Portland out-rebounded Toronto 55-40 and came up with 15 offensive rebounds to give themselves plenty of opportunities for second-chance points. Thank goodness Dwane Casey has this defence clicking, because if not for another good defensive effort, the Raptors would have been blown to smithereens.

4- DeMar DeRozan had another one of those awkward nights where you’re not quite sure if he’s starting to break out of his funk or is actually just digging himself deeper into a hole. Sure, he finished with 22 points and finally got to the line a good number of times (10), but he also shot seven-of-21 from the field (33.3 per cent) and missed a couple of shots that left everyone in the building face-palming. There was a point in the third quarter where DeMar converted an and-one and seemed to get genuinely angry after that. He began attacking the basket, got to the line and looked capable of single-handedly bringing the Raptors back into the game. Unfortunately, that only lasted for about 10 minutes.

5- A word on the Blazers. What other team in the NBA, or in all of pro sports for that matter, could have one prized lottery pick (and their franchise player) be forced to retire before fully entering his prime and another never even become a shadow of what the team expected him to be, and still not miss a beat? Yes, it’s depressing to think what this team could have been had Roy and Oden or even just one of them stayed healthy, but it’s also uplifting to watch what Nate McMillan and the current players on the roster are doing. They’re not the flashiest or most exciting team, but their offence is improved, their defence still looks very good, they seem to have good chemistry and LaMarcus Aldridge continues to play like an All Star. Are they championship contenders? No, but this team might have a couple of good playoff runs in them.

6- I wrote about how unimpressive and downright awful James Johnson was in his first start of the season in Boston, so I’ll give him some love for what was a surprising offensive outburst against Portland. Johnson, who was averaging four points on just over 30 per cent shooting coming into this game, scored a career-high 23 points, and did it in very efficient fashion, on just 17 shots. Most impressive, he was able to do it while still contributing in other areas of the game that he thrives in, like rebounding and defence. He continues to show that he’ll never give up on a defensive play, even when an opposing player has a 10-step head start on a fast break, and was the only Raptor to play more than five minutes and finish with a positive plus/minus (+2).

The Raptors don’t need James Johnson to become an offensive weapon, but they do need him to become a respectable offensive option when he’s on the floor if he wants to have a serious future in Toronto. Too often this season, the Raptors have been offensively handicapped at the small forward position, no matter who’s played the three.

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With that, the Raptors have now lost seven in a row and continue to face a daunting schedule. Nine of Toronto’s next 10 games are either against winning teams or teams that have already beaten the Raptors this season. If they can get healthy, perhaps they can win a few of those games, but if Andrea Bargnani and even Jerryd Bayless remain sidelined, this season could get horribly embarrassing over the next few weeks.

Raptors Player of the Game: James Johnson – 31 Min, 23 Pts, 10-17 FG, 1-2 3PT, 2-3 FT, 6 Reb, 2 Ast, 2 Stl, 4 Blk

Trail Blazers Player of the Game: LaMarcus Aldridge – 39 Min, 33 Pts, 12-25 FG, 9-14 FT, 23 Reb, 5 Ast, 2 Stl, 6 TO

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