Archive for the ‘Portland Trail Blazers’ Category

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.

***

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

Start time: 7:00 PM ET
Channel: TSN2
Probable starting lineups
Toronto: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, James Johnson, Ed Davis, Amir Johnson
Portland: Raymond Felton, Wesley Matthews, Gerald Wallace, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marcus Camby

Injury report

Toronto: Andrea Bargnani and Jerryd Bayless will both be game-time decisions tonight. I don’t know about Aaron Gray’s status and I don’t particularly care. Nothing against the guy personally, but he blows.

Portland: Marcus Camby and Nicolas Batum are both expected to return to the Blazers’ lineup tonight, so they should be at full strength, excluding Greg Oden.

How low can we go? The Raptors bring a six-game losing streak into this game and they embark on a five-game road trip afterwards that could easily stretch this streak into double-figures. These are the times that try men’s souls. I’m not talking about the players, I’m talking about Matt Devlin, Jack Armstrong and Leo Rautins, who have to continue to pretend that this Raptors season matters and that there’s anything remotely entertaining and noteworthy about this team’s performance on the court.

Over their last three games, the Raptors have averaged 73 points. Do you think they miss Andrea Bargnani? Maybe a little bit? I hope he’s back tonight — not because I think he’ll significantly improve the Raptors’ chances of winning, but because he’ll join Leandro Barbosa as the only players on this team with a measurable amount of offensive flair.

As for the Blazers, they’ve lost four of their last five but with the expected returns of Camby and Batum tonight, they should have the firepower to get back on track tonight. If the Blazers lose tonight, it could be because Felton and Jamal Crawford shot them out of it — they’re both shooting under 35 percent from the field.

Random thoughts…

  • If you haven’t read it yet, check out Blake Kennedy’s post from earlier today about what’s wrong with the Raptors’ offense.
  • I have a bunch of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” DVDs to get caught up on. Since I’m sick and won’t be going out much this weekend, this clip reminds me that now would be a good time to get on that.

Getty Images

A couple of 2006 draft picks went to battle in a pretty good ball game

Two injury-ravaged teams met at the Air Canada Centre on Friday night, and managed to put on a good show for the Toronto faithful.

It’s a good thing that many of the 15 625 fans inside the ACC weren’t in their seats for the first couple of minutes of the game though, because they would have seen some ugly basketball. The two teams combined for five turnovers in the game’s first 54 seconds, and went scoreless on the first seven possessions.

Ed Davis, who replaced the injured Amir Johnson in the starting lineup, provided the Raptors with an early spark by crashing the glass and chasing down loose balls. Even Andrea Bargnani could be seen hustling up and down the floor in that first quarter.

Toronto’s defence was decent to start the game, and after starting 1-of-5, the offence clicked on seven straight possessions. Before the home fans could get ahead of themselves though, the Blazers went on an 11-2 run to end the quarter.

Portland continued to pull away in the second quarter on the back of some perfect shooting from Rudy Fernandez. Fernandez, whose career high in points is 26, had 23 in the first half, on 8-of-8 shooting and 6-of-6 beyond the arc. Rudy’s hot hand and the Raptors’ defence falling into their usual malaise had the Blazers up 15 midway through the second quarter, but Toronto closed the half well to go into the break down just eight.

Like the Spurs game, the Raptors’ offence was rolling against a solid defensive team. Toronto shot 52 per cent in the first half, but again, like that Spurs game, allowed their opponents to shoot over 60 per cent in the opening half.

It was the Raptors that used some carry-over momentum from the end of the second quarter into the third, and the Raps actually put together quite the quarter. Davis continued to provide energy, DeMar DeRozan continued to shoot the ball well and Andrea Bargnani, for the second consecutive game, showed signs of coming out of his horrible shooting slump. Toronto held Portland to just 17 points in the third, as they did a better job of containing Fernandez and LaMarcus Aldridge.

It all set up another interesting fourth quarter, as the Blazers’ lead was down to two.

To start the fourth, the Raptors looked to take the lead, and Jerryd Bayless helped them do just that. Bayless, playing against his former team, scored all 18 of his points in the fourth quarter, including four three-pointers. When it wasn’t Bayless in the fourth quarter, Bargnani filled in, and the Raptors had actually taken control with less than six minutes remaining.

However, as has been the case so many times with this young Raptors team, they simply lacked the skill and savvy to put a superior team away in the final minutes. Aldridge carried the load as the Trail Blazers fought back and eventually took control, themselves.

Bayless continued to keep the Raptors’ hopes alive in the final minute, but Jerryd and the Raps came up just short…again.

It’s increasingly difficult to find positives as the team falls to 14-40, but there were some on Friday night.

Aside from Bayless’ fourth quarter explosion against his former teammates, Bargnani shot the ball well for the second game in a row and actually seemed to be in the game defensively. Andrea also moved well without the ball, something the big Italian still needs to improve in his game. DeRozan continued to be efficient on the offensive end and forced some turnovers on the defensive end.

And as mentioned repeatedly, Ed Davis was a bundle of energy tonight in his spot start. Davis grabbed seven offensive rebounds and 13 total rebounds in just 28 minutes.

There’s no question that the Blazers’ 16 turnovers helped keep the Raptors in the game, as Portland shot 54 per cent when they were actually able to get a shot off. But the Raptors also played well, and deserve some credit for hanging around until the final 10 seconds against a Western playoff team.

At the end of the day, what is there to really complain about? The Raptors provided another exciting basketball game and quality entertainment for their home crowd, while still keeping their increasing lottery hopes alive and kicking.

Raptors Player of the Game: Andrea Bargnani – 43 Min, 29 Pts, 10-17 FG, 1-1 3Pt, 8-9 FT, 6 Reb, 4 Ast, 1 Stl, 5 TO

Trail Blazers Player of the Game: LaMarcus Aldridge – 42 Min, 37 Pts, 14-25 FG, 9-12 FT, 10 Reb, 2 Ast, 2 Stl, 2 Blk, 4 TO

Goat of the Game: Leandro Barbosa – 20 Min, 6 Pts, 2-8 FG, 0-2 3Pt, 2-2 FT, 1 Reb, 3 Ast, TO

Portland Trail Blazers

If the Raptors are one of the feel-bad stories of this season, the scrappy Portland Trail Blazers have to be considered one of the feel-good stories of the 2010-11 NBA season. Despite the tragic flame-out of Greg Oden and the arguably even more tragic breakdown of Brandon Roy, they remain in the playoff hunt in the Western Conference thanks to surprising performances from LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews. You’ll recall that Aldridge was the guy the Raptors passed over to draft Andrea Bargnani in the 2006 draft because they wanted a “real center” to play next to Bosh. Matthews was an undrafted player who showed some intriguing skills as a rookie sixth man with the Jazz last season and is now arguably the second best player on the Western Conference’s current eighth seed.

The Blazers are the reason I roll my eyes when some Raptors fans claim injuries are to blame for their team’s misfortune this season. Teams with talent, depth and good coaching can persevere through injuries. The Raptors weren’t going to make the playoffs this season even if every single player on the roster was healthy for the entire season.

Injury report

Toronto: Amir Johnson will miss his first game of the season with a sprained ankle. I guess we should have seen this coming from this picture Holly posted yesterday.

Portland: Aside from the injuries you know about (Roy, Oden, Camby), some dude named Dante Cunningham who has inexplicably played 991 minutes this season is listed as probable with a busted-up eye socket.

Five questions

1. If Ed Davis gets the start, how will he perform guarding one of the hottest players in the league right now, LaMarcus Aldridge?

2. Should the Raptors have tried to trade for Rudy Fernandez while he was still disgruntled in Portland?

3. Do you think Sonny Weems realizes how much money he’s cost himself on his next contract with each passing game lately?

4. Shouldn’t a guy named Trey Johnson have made more than one three-pointer in 73 minutes this season?

5. Does anyone else make sure to trade for Joel Przybilla anytime they play franchise mode in any NBA video game? Just me? OK.

Start time: 7:00 PM ET
Channel: TSN
Probable starting lineups
Toronto: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, Sonny Weems, Ed Davis, Andrea Bargnani
Portland: Andre Miller, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, Joel Przybilla

Seattle doesn’t have an NBA team anymore, so I’ll use Portland games as an excuse to drag out grunge songs from the ’90s that shaped my young adulthood. Tonight, I’m going to go with Nirvana’s “Very Ape”, which features one of my favorite rock song lyrics ever: “If you ever need anything please don’t hesitiate to ask someone else first.”

Because I’m on my way out for a Saturday night poker game, I’m a Cogeco customer and tonight’s Raptors game is on Sportsnet One, I won’t even be able to watch this game on my PVR tomorrow. Thanks, Rogers and Cogeco!

Of course, I think we all know how this is going to turn out. The Raptors are probably about to end this Western road trip with a 1-5 record and the sinking realization that this team might actually be as bad as the “experts” said they were. Hey, as long as you expected it going into the season (which I did), it’s not nearly as painful.

Speaking of pain, here’s the injury report. Rudy Fernandez is out while LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby are questionable tonight. The only significant injury the Raptors have is to their pride.

Five questions

1. Greg Oden will be a restricted free agent after this season. Should the Raptors make a run at him?

2. Did you know that Marcus Camby is the only former Raptor from the 1996-97 season to still be in the NBA? The following season, he was teammates with Chauncey Billups and Tracy McGrady in Toronto — and that team finished 16-66.

3. Did Amir Johnson finally break through with last night’s 12-point, 15-rebound, 2-foul performance in 25 minutes against the Lakers?

4. Can Reggie Evans get 20 rebounds tonight against a Blazers team that has been out-rebounded in each of their last four games?

5. I haven’t played poker in a while so I’m a little rusty. A straight beats a full house, right?

Start time: 10:00 PM ET
Channel: Sportsnet ONE
Probable starting lineups
Toronto: Jarrett Jack, DeMar DeRozan, Linas Kleiza, Reggie Evans, Andrea Bargnani
Portland: Andre Miller, Brandon Roy, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marcus Camby

Tonight’s pregame song is “Born Too Slow” by The Crystal Method. No real reason, it’s just a slammin’ track.