Sitting at 24-7 on the season, the Toronto Raptors will look to cap off their amazing 2014 stretch with a victory over the 25-7 Portland Trail Blazers. Fresh off solid road victories versus the Los Angeles Clippers and the Denver Nuggets over this past weekend, the Eastern Conference leaders will be in for another legitimate test versus a strong Western Conference foe as they visit the Moda Center tonight in what’s sure to be quite a challenging matchup.
Though the Toronto Raptors sit 17 games above the .500 mark and possess an encouraging 9-2 record versus Western Conference opponents, some would argue that the team still hasn’t proven very much because they’ve failed come out on top following matchups with elite teams. Games like tonight provide adequate tests for a team looking to continue improving while simultaneously turning heads around the Association. The positive strides made by the Raptors thus far in the 2014-15 campaign have been impressive, but the team still isn’t satisfied. Battles with top-tier competition are good challenges for this team looking to grow. Even with DeMar DeRozan still sitting out with his groin injury, this one should be good.
Cage’s Keys to the Game
Although Portland’s bench has somewhat improved since last season, the Raptors should hold the advantage in this facet of the matchup. Portland is one of the best teams that the West has to offer, but its backup players leave much to be desired. The Blazers starting lineup (even sans-Robin Lopez) is undoubtedly among the league’s most talented, so the Raptors reserves will have to be on their A-game to capitalize on the lopsidedness of the matchup between them and their Portland counterparts. Look for Lou Williams to build upon in 31 point scoring output from last game in tonight’s battle— his contributions will be key as the Raptors hope to extend this streak on the west coast. Patrick Patterson will play a major role in this one too, as Toronto will need another team effort to stop another quality big man— this time being LaMarcus Aldridge.
Defend The Three
The three point shot is utilized as a major component of the Blazers offense. Not only is Portland the fourth ranked team in the entire league when it comes to shots taken from long range on a nightly basis (26.6 per game), but the team ranks second in the league when it comes to draining though downtown jumpers (10.1 per game). Wesley Matthews and Damian Lillard are absolutely lethal from beyond the arc. In order to give themselves an opportunity in this one, the Raptors will need to be solid on the defensive end. They’ll need make sure that Portland’s jumpers are adequate contested through defensive communication and rotation. Dwane Casey takes pride in performance on this end of the floor, so it should be interesting to see how his team responds to the challenge.
Lowry vs. Lillard
Without a doubt, this is the positional duel to keep an eye on tonight. Kyle Lowry and Damian Lillard are the floor generals leading two of the best teams in the NBA, they’re both deserving of consideration in the “best point guard” conversation, and they both deserve a spot in the MVP discussion. Don’t be surprised if there’s a period in this game when these two go at it with one another. Both guys have proven they can score. It’ll come down to which one can slow down the other before it’s too late.
X-Factor: Terrence Ross
Like the Lowry-Lillard matchup, Terrence Ross‘ matchup with Wesley Matthews will have a significant effect on the outcome of this one. Something tells me that the Raps won’t be able to walk away with a W if T-Ross has a poor outing. If the shot isn’t dropping, he needs to ensure that the sharpshooter Matthews is limited on offense as well. This is a game where the importance of Ross’ defensive capabilities cannot be understated.