Trail Blazers-Raptors Preview
By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) -- Although the Toronto Raptors haven't defeated the Portland Trail Blazers in almost five years, they figure to give them all they can handle this time around if their recent efforts are any indication.
Seeking an eighth victory in nine games, Toronto tries to avoid a ninth consecutive loss to visiting Portland as these teams square off Wednesday night.
Since pulling out a 116-109 double-overtime win over the Trail Blazers (16-14) on Jan. 13, 2008, the Raptors (11-20) have been outscored by an average of 10.8 points in dropping the last eight matchups in this series. Despite holding Portland to 0 for 20 from 3-point range, Toronto saw those woes continue with a 92-74 road defeat Dec. 10, losing Andrea Bargnani to a ligament tear in his right elbow in the process.
While most assumed Bargnani's injury would set back the Raptors, who were 4-18 at the time, even more, his absence has instead allowed others to step up. Toronto enters the new year having won seven of eight while holding opponents to an average of 91.9 points - significantly lower than its season mark of 99.8.
The Raptors are coming off Saturday's 123-88 rout at Orlando. DeMar DeRozan had 21 points while Jose Calderon scored 15 to go along with 10 assists for Toronto, which went 15 for 27 from beyond the arc and shot a season-high 56.1 percent.
"We've had a lot of bad luck early in the season with injuries and close games so it's desperation time every time we step on the court," said DeRozan, who scored 30 the night before in a 104-97 overtime win at New Orleans. "When we make the game fun, everybody's confidence gets high and it feels like we can't be stopped."
Ed Davis also came up big with 18 points Saturday while Kyle Lowry and Terrence Ross added 16 apiece off the bench. Alan Anderson, averaging 15.3 points over the last seven games, chipped in 11.
"We don't have any Kobes or LeBrons who just go out and win games for us, we've got to do it as a team," Calderon said. "When we do that, we're pretty good."
The Raptors, who open a season-high six-game homestand Wednesday, have taken four in a row on their own court - their longest such run since putting together eight consecutive victories Jan. 17-Feb. 10, 2010.
The Blazers, meanwhile, kicked off their four-game trek in impressive fashion Tuesday, winning 105-100 at New York. Nicolas Batum made 6 of 12 from beyond the arc and finished with 26 points while rookie sensation Damian Lillard scored 21. LaMarcus Aldridge had 19 and 14 boards as the Blazers improved to 8-2 over their last 10 games.
"This was big time for us. I think we're gaining confidence every day," said Lillard, who leads all first-year players in scoring at 18.4 per game. "Every day that we see ourselves on film, we see the improvements that we've been making and we're getting better. We're starting to trust each other more and we're jelling a lot better than we were and it's showing."
Aldridge in particular has given the Raptors fits of late. The formidable big man had 30 points and 12 boards in last month's matchup and is averaging 33.3 and 15.0, respectfully, in his last three games in this series.
The Blazers have gone 4-0 as the visiting team when scoring at least 103 points but are just 1-10 when failing to reach that mark. They're averaging 95.3 points in opposing arenas.
Updated January 2, 2013