Way back in the day, when I was an intern with the Blazers (08-09), Portland had a two-game stretch that very closely mirrors the two-game dip they find themselves in today in Toronto.
On December 30th 2008, the Blazers, minus Brandon Roy, faced the Boston Celtics, the defending NBA Champion Boston Celtics. On the back of maybe Greg Oden’s best performance as a professional (13 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, three steals, a hip check into the first row on Ray Allen, and one very memorable incident in which he forgot to check out of the game), a great game from Steve Blake, and some serious fourth quarter leadership from Travis Outlaw, the upstart Blazers vanquished the champs (who were 28-4 at the time) 91-86.
A few nights later, Portland faced the New Orleans Hornets. NOLA, with Chris Paul and David West (remember that tandem you guys) were a strong team, one of the favorites to win the West at the time, and they handled the Blazers quite nicely 92-77.
Following the loss, one of very few home losses that season, I was standing in the home locker room, and somebody, Mike Barrett I think, mentioned the very salient point that without Brandon Roy for two games (he was also held out of the Hornets’ game) the Blazers and their fans would have been perfectly fine with beating New Orleans and losing to Boston. Because of that, we should all try not to get too upset about how everything went down on the second night of a two-night home stand.
And it’s that don’t let a loss to one team destroy a win against another even if you beat the team you should lose to and get whipped by the team you should be better than attitude that should inform ever Blazer fan about Wednesday’s game against the Raptors at the Air Canada Centre.
Wednesday will be the second and final time the Blazers and the Raptors square off. The first time these two teams met, in Portland on December 10th, many odd things happened. Andrea Bargnani, the albatross of the Raps organization, played a scant seven and a half minutes, but losing their biggest black hole didn’t improve Toronto’s offense. Portland took and missed 20 straight three-point attempts (setting a record that would last a whole week and then get broken at the Rose Garden by the Denver Nuggets) and still won by 18. And Amir Johnson collected one of the oddest ejections an NBA fan will ever see.
Since early December, both Toronto and Portland have gotten much much better. Eric Koreen from The National Post of Toronto notes that the Raptors and the Blazers have identical records since their last meeting. The difference here, is that 7-2 over the course of almost a month has Portland in the mix in some very limited sense. A vastly improved and streaking Raptors squad is still last in their division and in 11th place in the East, only ahead of three of the four worst teams in the NBA.
Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson
Raptors Starting 5: PG Jose Calderon, SG DeMar DeRozan, SF Mickael Pietrus, PF Ed Davis, C Aaron Gray
If I’m the Toronto Raptors, and I’m looking for a potential revenge game, Wednesday against the Blazers would be it. Losing by 20 to a team that can’t hit the broadside of a barn from three will leave a bad taste in the mouths of even the most sad sack basketball players.
Should getting a huge win at MSG against one of the hottest teams in the league deter Toronto in their desire to get one back against the Blazers? No. In fact, my thinking is that the Raptors are probably happy that Portland won on Tuesday. Winning against a great team can usually take away some of the urgency associated with playing a team with a bad record. Not that any NBA player would say they’d prefer to face a group of guys not on their best day (to be the best you have to beat the best when they’re playing their best) but I’m sure they’d all also take any advantage they can get.
On Portland’s end though, I’m sure there is a sense among the guys that winning in Toronto is almost as important as winning in Midtown Manhattan. The balance of talent in the NBA is such that there are teams that are clearly better than other teams, but on any given night any team can beat any other team. Thus, winning one game is meaningless. It’s winning on a regular basis that differentiates a good team from a great team. It’s why the NBA Finals is a series; any team can win once, the champion has to win four times. I can already see a lot of people penning their “Tuesday was a fluke, Wednesday was a reality check” gamer. I’m sure these Blazers are doing that too.
Winning in New York was a big deal, don’t get me wrong, but it’s rendered less of a big deal if Portland doesn’t beat the Raptors. It might not be a big deal at all if the Blazers go 0-3 on the rest of this trip (which is certainly a possibility).
What to Watch For
- Are the Blazers over Tuesday’s win of the year (see what I did there). A big win is like a big loss, it needs to be gotten over in a hurry. Portland should pat themselves on the back for the way they played in NYC, it might have been their best win of the season, it certainly was the best win of 2013. But if they’re still celebrating Tuesday’s win when Wednesday’s game starts, they’re in big trouble.
- Can Portland do some of the things against Toronto that they did against New York. By that I mean can the Blazers get the ball inside to J.J. Hickson early, get LaMarcus Aldridge rolling with his jumper, and get efficient offense from Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum. The Knicks were not shooting well Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean Portland’s offense wasn’t mostly responsible for building a 19-point lead. If the Blazers can play the kind of efficient offense they brought to Madison Square Garden at the ACC, they have a really good chance of getting to that split of the road trip two games in. As far as defensive carryover, Tuesday might not be the best game to look at. The Blazers let Carmelo Anthony tie the league’s season high night in scoring. There isn’t a dude on Toronto on Melo’s level, but it’s never a good idea to let somebody score basically at will. However, if Portland can get a big lead, then lose the big part but maintain the lead part, and then still win, well that’s OK with me. Winning by any means necessary is good enough on the road.
- Will the Blazers hit a three. Portland is 0-20 from three on the season against the Raptors. Their first three ball Wednesday night will be their first against Toronto this season. It’s a meaningless stat, the Blazers beat the Raptors without hitting a three, but it certainly will help gauged the readiness of this Portland squad if they come out Wednesday and knock down a couple treys to start the game.