I have made it no secret that the Blazers are my team in the west and it’s finally time to see how they match up with the Raptors. Today’s guest preview was contributed by Stu from NBA Noise.
Stu Holdren (@NBAnoise) covers news across the league as the editor at NBA Noise, but as a Portlander, the Blazers have always been his passion.
The Portland Trail Blazers are certainly a team on the rise in the West. After a first-round playoff exit the team was disappointed, but inspired after finally tasting the postseason again. While this Blazers team has been one that has been viewed as being young but with great potential in the last couple of years, the Blazers hope to shake the “potential” term and realize true success this season.
After failing to officially ink Hedo Turkoglu (you’re welcome, Toronto fans), the Blazers unsuccessfully went after Utah’s Paul Millsap and finally came to an agreement with ex-76er Andre Miller. Miller brings a wealth of experience, veteran savvy and talent to the Blazers, and they hope he will be a guiding force in taking them deeper into the playoffs this season. His court vision should help the Blazers push the tempo this season, and his slashing ability will be a welcome weapon for this team. Look for Greg Oden to reap the most rewards from the Miller acquisition, since the Blazers often had trouble getting him the ball in position to score last year.
While the Blazers certainly got more talented with the acquisition of Miller, it will be interesting to see how he will fit in with the team. With Brandon Roy often serving as the primary ball-handler (especially in crunch time), playing Miller off the ball could allow defenses more opportunities to double-team given his non-threatening outside shot. Steve Blake’s hot shooting from the outside was what made him so valuable last season. Although Coach Nate McMillan hasn’t officially named the starter at point guard, most fans would tell you that they expect Miller to start.
The Blazers expect big things out of their two star players, Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, who both continue to shine as some of the brightest young talents at their respective positions. However, the key to this season might be the play of Oden, whose first season was riddled with nagging injuries and foul trouble. When playing for any extended period of time, Oden usually had a significant impact on the game and was an imposing force on the court. But he averaged nearly four fouls a game in only 21.5 mpg, relegating him to the bench frequently and stunting his development and confidence. I suspect some of this foul trouble was due to the tough transition into the league, but more to a lack of proper conditioning (injuries played a role in this). Reports of Oden’s offseason progress thus far have been positive. If he can come into camp in shape and in good spirits, he could be a major boost to the Blazers this year.
The Blazers also have one of the deepest teams in the league. They have great scorers like Travis Outlaw, Rudy Fernandez and Martell Webster to turn to when they need a boost. They have solid defenders in Nicolas Batum and Joel Przybilla. And they have a diversity of talents in the backcourt with Blake and Jerryd Bayless. This ‘spoils of riches’ should allow the Blazers to take advantage of mis-matches and weaknesses of their opponents this year.
All in all, the Blazers have quietly assembled an imposing roster capable of competing for Western Conference prominence now. While the West continues to be highly competitive with heavyweights like the Lakers and Spurs, the Blazers have been on a steady ascent lately and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon. The Blazers and fans alike are done waiting and are expecting a deeper run into the playoffs this year.
Last Season Record: 0-2
The Raptors have played the Blazers tough in recent meetings between the two. Last season though, they fell both times. Once in a buzzer beater and the other was a complete blowout. The Raptor bigs carried most of the scoring load while on the other end they got a steady dose of LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy. Both teams averaged over 95 ppg so it was hardly a defensive series but the Raptors never got help from their other players where the Blazers had a different guy step up to help with the scoring in each of the games.
The Bigs: Chis Bosh is still the man in Toronto and he has managed to score at will against this team. Aldridge plays a very similar game and may be as good as Bosh soon. Greg Oden is the question mark here. Can he play 35+ minutes? Can he stay out of foul trouble? With Joel Pryzbilla and newly acquired Juwan Howard, it is safe to say even if Bosh and LaMarcus cancel each other out, Bargnani will be able to flourish against some of these slow footed centers. Both teams run similar plays with their power forwards but unlike Toronto, Portland’s C spot doesn’t produce much offense. Bargnani should be able to pull one of their bigs away from the basket reducing their shot blocking opportunities and Bosh should be able to push around the one PF he is actually stronger than.
The Wings: They may have lost the Hedo sweepstakes but with a healthy Martell Webster, athletic Travis Outlaw and dynamic Rudy Fernandez – the wing position in Portland is better than fine. Similar to the issues I mentioned with Hedo going up against Gerald Wallace, Outlaw and Martell along with Batum will make it very difficult for Turkoglu to dominate offensively. While Rudy is probably the only major scoring threat for Portland, Martell and Travis can get hot fast while Batum is relied on for his sound defense. His skill set is what I am hoping the Raptors get out of players like Antoine Wright. Hit the occasional shot but focus on the primary objective – Defense. I wanted to give the edge here to the Blazers again but looking at past games, their wings have never managed to hurt Toronto by putting up points, its always been defensively. Adding Hedo helps the Raptors and a year of experience helps the Blazers. Call it a wash.
The Guards: The Raptors had their chance and passed on Brandon Roy for Bargnani. Andrea, while a solid player, is no where close to the star Roy has already become. He is the heart and soul of this Blazer team. He can flat out score, loves to take the big shots and has been relied on to run the offense in the past. With the addition of Andre Miller, Roy will have more freedom to roam and play off the screens. The Blazers run a lot of pick ‘n roll and pick ‘n pop with LaMarcus and having Roy running free will make him much harder to cover. It doesn’t end there as the Blazers also have Steve Blake who can be deadly from distance and Jerryd Bayless who is bubbling with potential. Offensively, the tandem of Raptor guards on the floor at any given time will have to be able to make jumpers. Portland has some good shot blockers and their guards are pretty strong making it hard to get anything going near the basket. Jose and Jack will have to take it into the paint and come through with made free throws to keep pace.
Predicted Record: 1-1 (Raptors will squeak out with a win at home)