The NBA season is winding down and eventually just two teams will be left to fight it out for the industry’s greatest prize. One team, each representing the Eastern and Western conferences, will play in the NBA Championship game.
While the league has recently had the same finals matchup and same overall winner more often than not, 2019 might be different. In fact, the two teams set to clash today (8 PM ET Friday), the (38-23) Portland Trail Blazers and (45-17) Toronto Raptors, have legitimate cases as to why they will be the ones hoisting the trophy when all is said and done.
Currently sitting in fourth place in the Western Conference, just 4.5 games behind the leading Golden State Warriors, the Trail Blazers enter this game looking for their sixth straight victory. The winning streak, which began in a home game against the Warriors, also includes tough road wins over the East’s fourth and fifth best teams, the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics respectively. Up next however, will be Portland’s toughest road match of the East coast trip, against the Raptors, who are 26-6 at home and 8-1 in the month of February.
Toronto, whose last game also happened to come against the Celtics on Tuesday, has enjoyed a rare two days off to prepare for this upcoming interconference clash of powerhouses. The Raptors, one of the favorites to advance to the NBA Finals and win the Eastern Conference, sit just 2.5 games behind the first-place and hands-down best team in basketball, the Milwaukee Bucks. Much like the Trail Blazers, recent victories over playoff teams in the opposite conference, the West’s seventh and eighth seeded San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers respectively, have helped the Raptors keep pace as one of the best teams in the East.
The Trail Blazers and Raptors are among two of the hottest teams in the NBA at the moment, making for what should be a great game tonight. It could end up being a championship preview as well if things keep going the way they are.
The Stars – Damian Lillard vs Kawhi Leonard
The NBA is very much a superstar driven league and fortunately for both the Raptors and Trail Blazers, they have two of the best in 27-year-old Kawhi Leonard and 28-year-old Damian Lillard.
Averaging the ninth and 10th highest scoring outputs in the NBA, both Leonard and Lillard have been strong reasons as to the success of their two teams.
In his first season with the Raptors and first back from an injury which kept him on the bench for much of 2017-18, Leonard has played fantastically. The Raptors star is averaging 26.8 points, which is third highest among Eastern Conference teams and ninth best in the league overall. Leonard is also shooting a crisp 36 percent from three point range, 86 percent from the free throw line and 49 percent from the floor.
Playing in his seventh season with the team that drafted him sixth overall in 2012, Lillard’s average of 26 points per game is 10th best in the NBA. He has been the biggest piece of Portland’s success during their entire recent run on top and most notably, ever since Lamarcus Aldridge left the team not long ago.
Lillard is shooting 45 percent from the floor, 37 percent from three point range and an NBA-fourth best 91.1 percent from the free throw line. Lillard is definitely one of the league’s more complete players on offense and he has been the Trail Blazers’ most consistent performer during their five- game winning streak and beyond.
Best of the Rest
Both Lillard and Leonard are obviously the top cogs in the machine for each of their respective teams, and while the NBA is a superstar driven league, even the top players need to be backed up by a solid unit behind them. The best teams are the ones who build around their superstars with players who match their strengths and cover up their weaknesses and both Toronto and Portland have done that with success.
The Trail Blazers have three players in double digit scoring in addition to Lillard, including starters CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic and Enes Kanter. McCollum is second on the team in scoring and Nurkic is the team’s only double-double man, averaging 10.1 rebounds per game as well. The Raptors have five such players beyond Leonard as all of their starting lineup averages scoring figures over 10. Unlike Portland which has two players in their 20s for scoring, the Raptors just have the one. After Leonard, the next highest scorer on the team is Pascal Siakim, who averages nearly 10 points less than Leonard at 16.3. Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas and Fred VanVleet round out the team’s top six scorers.
Looking at these numbers it is no surprise then to see that the Raptors have the NBA’s sixth highest point output, averaging 114.2 points per game. Their point differential of +5.5 is third best and their free throw percentage is fifth best. They are three spots behind Portland on that one though as the Trail Blazers are the league’s second best team when it comes to taking aim from the charity stripe, averaging almost 82 percent shooting at free throw range. Defensively, Toronto (10th) and Portland (12th), sit in the top half of the league in opponents’ points per game allowed as well.
Our Preview’s Portland Trail Blazers vs Toronto Raptors Predictions & Picks Verdict
There is just a little over a month left in the 2018-19 NBA season, but there is still so much left to be determined. Most of the playoff teams are still within striking distance of each other, setting up for what could be a very exciting finish to the season. To kick off March with a game like this, that features two teams jockeying for top position in their conferences, could simply be setting the stage for what’s to come.
- The Raptors are five point favorites on the U.S. bookmakers’ websites and given they have lost just six games at home all season, the smart money should be behind Toronto. But Portland should be able to keep it close so the first of our Trail Blazers vs Toronto Raptors predictions is to bet the Trail Blazers +5pts @ -110 with Bovada, Intertops, Bookmaker or BetOnline.
- As for the pick on the total points, we expect it to go under 226pts @ -115 with Bovada. The other firms have the total set a shade lower.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.