Raptors-Trail Blazers Preview
The Toronto Raptors made some history over the weekend, completing the franchise's first perfect seven-game homestand.
The Portland Trail Blazers have a chance to finish their seven-game homestand with six wins when they face the Raptors on Thursday night in a matchup between two of the league's hottest teams.
A victory over Detroit on Saturday capped the homestand for the Toronto (33-16), extending its franchise-best winning streak to 11 games. A subsequent six-game trip began with Monday's 112-93 loss to Denver, but the Raptors bounced back the next night with a 104-97 victory over Phoenix.
“It's good to get back to winning,” said Kyle Lowry, who had 26 points and hit five 3-pointers. “It feels good to win.”
The good vibes are also blossoming for the Blazers (24-26), who have won nine of 11.
In what was generally considered a rebuilding season after needing to replace four-fifths of its starters at the season's onset, Portland has nearly clawed back to .500 and is in the mix for one of the Western Conference's final playoff spots.
''It was just a matter of time before we started to click,'' CJ McCollum said after Tuesday's 107-95 victory over Milwaukee. ''Forty games, 50 games in, that's when you start to see a better brand of basketball all around.''
McCollum had 30 points and Damian Lillard had 12 assists as the Blazers won their season-high fifth straight since losing to Atlanta in the opener to their homestand Jan. 20. They haven't won six in a row since a nine-game run in November 2014 and are trying to win six times on a homestand of at least seven games for only the third time.
History is on their side against the Raptors, as the Blazers have won the last seven matchups in Portland and 12 of 13 meetings overall.
''Guys are settling into roles. That helps,'' McCollum said. ''We're starting to see that better product. There's still sloppy moments – that happens in basketball – but overall we're doing a better job of taking care of the ball and finishing games down the stretch.''
A commitment to defense has also keyed the turnaround.
In the last four games, the Blazers are limiting opponents to an average 94.0 points – 8.1 below their season mark. Their 47.5 opponent effective field-goal percentage during their win streak is one of the best marks in the league.
''We've been playing solid defense,” coach Terry Stotts said.
Portland's defense will be tested by a Toronto team that has been on a tear besides the loss to the Nuggets, averaging 107.8 points in its last 10 wins.
While All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Lowry have been producing slightly above their normal clip, Terrence Ross (8.8 points per game) has scored at least 15 in half of the last six games. The reserve guard is shooting 46.7 percent from beyond the arc in the last nine games and the Raptors are 16-3 when he makes at least two 3-pointers.
“We're just trying to find ways to win games,” Lowry said. “Whether it's offense, defense, we're just trying to find ways to win games and close them out.”
Portland may be without forward Noah Vonleh after he sprained his left ankle Tuesday. Despite starting, Vonleh only averages 3.6 points and 4.1 rebounds whereas Meyers Leonard averages 9.0 points and 5.0 rebounds while fellow backup Ed Davis is at 6.8 and 7.1.