Trail Blazers-Raptors Preview
A select few can rival the production of a backcourt that's catapulted the Portland Trail Blazers into playoff contention. The Toronto Raptors are one of them.
Two of the NBA's best teams of the second half face off Friday night at Air Canada Centre, where the Raptors aim for an unprecedented 12th consecutive home win and the Trail Blazers look to put behind a road loss which has been rare recently.
After opening this season-high six-game trip with three victories, Portland (33-29) had a six-game road win streak halted by becoming the 12th straight visitor to lose at Boston's TD Garden in Wednesday's 116-93 defeat to the Celtics. The Blazers had been 8-1 on the road in 2016.
They haven't dropped back-to-back games overall since a three-game skid Jan. 4-8. They've since gone 18-5 for the league's fourth-best record, eclipsed only by Golden State, San Antonio and a Raptors team that's 19-4 since Jan. 6.
Portland has lost just three times in its last 17 games, one being a 110-103 home defeat to Toronto on Feb. 4. The Raptors (40-19) also won the battle of guard tandems, as Kyle Lowry hit seven 3-pointers and amassed 30 points to complement 29 from fellow All-Star DeMar DeRozan.
Both also delivered big performances in Wednesday's 104-94 win over Utah, with Lowry scoring 32 and DeRozan 31 on 11-of-15 shooting to help Toronto to a franchise-record 11th straight home victory.
"We just go out there and do their job," Lowry said. "We try to make sure that we still have everyone else contributing and get those guys involved. For me and (DeRozan), we try to take some of the attention we get and make other guys get open looks."
Lowry and DeRozan's 44.9 points per game rank third among NBA guard combos, just behind Portland's Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum (46.1). The duo's play has been instrumental to the Blazers' rise, with Lillard averaging 31.6 points over his last 10 and McCollum shooting 50.0 percent from 3-point range in averaging 21.6 over the past eight.
The two combined for 48 points in last month's matchup but were mostly held in check by Boston, which outscored the Trail Blazers 60-34 in the paint and had 19 offensive rebounds leading to 21 second-chance points.
''We just weren't good enough," said Lillard, held to 20 points after scoring 30 or more in each of the trip's first three games. "We didn't do a lot of the things that we've been doing at the level that we've been doing them."
Portland forced a season-low five turnovers, its fourth straight outing of nine or less. Toronto has been terrific at taking care of the ball of late, averaging a league-low 9.4 giveaways over its last eight.
The efficient Raptors are averaging 108.0 points while shooting 50.1 percent over their last five. They've won four times during that stretch, with the lone blemish Sunday's 114-101 loss at Detroit in which Lowry was rested two days after scoring a career-high 43 against Cleveland.
''It's a long season, it's a grind and we put our bodies through a lot," he said. "We get paid really good money to do it, so I know the resting thing is not too popular with everyone, but in the end we want to be able to put out the best product possible.''
Toronto is seeking its first season sweep of Portland since 1996-97. The Trail Blazers have won 12 of the last 14 matchups.