The Raptors open up a season long six-game homestand and the 2013 portion of their schedule with the Blazers in town.

Start time: 7:00 PM ET
Channel: Sportsnet

Probable starting lineups
Toronto: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, Mickael Pietrus, Ed Davis, Aaron Gray
Portland: Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, J.J. Hickson

Injury report
Toronto: Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas are out
Portland: Meyers Leonard is doubtful

Random Thoughts:

  • As myself and others have mentioned countless times over the last couple of weeks, 2013 is where the schedule really appears to turn in the Raptors’ favour. 29 out of 51 remaining games will be played at the Air Canada Centre (beginning with six in a row tonight) and the Raps only play nine back-to-backs the rest of the way after having to play in nine through the first two months/31 games of the season alone.
  • A lot of people seem to think that the Blazers are over-achieving at 16-14 or at the very least are a surprising story as the eighth seed in the West after 30 games, but I think the real issue has to do with people underestimating their talent before the season rather than the team now playing above their heads. Portland has a potential Rookie Of the Year stud at the point, a legitimate All Star big man in LaMarcus Aldridge and an excellent third option in Nicolas Batum, who’s playing the best basketball of his career. Sure, their bench leaves much to be desired, but with the three players I just mentioned, the Blazers only need another player or two to step up from game to game to have a chance every night.
  • Speaking of Portland’s bench, if the Raptors are going to win this game, they’ll have to take advantage of what should be a major advantage when the second units hit the floor. Toronto’s bench sits ninth in the NBA at 37.1 points per game, while Portland’s sits dead last at 17.5 points per game. The 29th-placed bench (Cleveland) is nearly six points per game (23.3) better than that. Of course, when these two teams met in Portland in December, the Raptors’ reserves outscored the Blazers’ reserves 34-23 and the game still ended in a blowout win for the Blazers.
  • As of right now, that game at the Rose Garden on December 10 seems to have been rock bottom for the Raptors. The loss dropped them to 4-18, the team lost Kyle Lowry and Andrea Bargnani to separate injuries and Amir Johnson was ejected and then subsequently suspended for throwing his mouth guard at a ref. Since then, despite a competitive home loss to Brooklyn a couple of nights later and a predictable loss in San Antonio last week, the Raps have been a completely different team. Toronto’s gone 7-2 since that 18-point loss in Portland and have outscored opponents by an average of 7.4 points per game during that nine-game stretch.
  • The catch is that none of those seven wins in nine games have come against teams with winning records (Dallas and Houston were both .500 teams at the time Toronto beat them), so if the Raptors truly want to make a statement that they’re a different team now, beating the 16-14 Trail Blazers – the very team that kicked them down to rock bottom just a few weeks ago – would go a long way in proving it.