Blazers, Raptors clash in hot matchup
The Portland Trail Blazers visit the Toronto Raptors on Friday night, with each team coming off a win over the Boston Celtics.
While the Celtics are staggering, the Trail Blazers and the Raptors are surging.
The Blazers defeated Boston 99-92 Wednesday night for their season-best fifth straight win; they are 4-0 on their seven-game Eastern trip.
The Raptors dominated the Celtics 118-95 Tuesday and have won eight of their past nine games.
The Trail Blazers are 18-4 against teams from the Eastern Conference.
"We're focused; our minds are right; we're playing for each other," said Blazers guard Damian Lillard, who scored 33 points and added seven rebounds and four assists on Wednesday.
"And we're getting it from everybody on both ends of the floor. It's been consistent. You get that type of consistent effort from multiple guys, everybody in the rotation, this is what it looks like. I just think we came in (Wednesday) and we said, 'We won the first three games of the trip, but, so what? Let's just keep doing what we've been doing.'"
One factor in the Blazers' surge has been forward Moe Harkless, who is regaining form after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee last March.
"It's been a tough year, dating back to last year when I got hurt," Harkless told the Oregonian. "It's been a battle. It's been up-and-down. It's been frustrating at times. But I just stuck with it, I'm continuing to stick with it, and it just feels good to be playing and playing well."
Harkless had season bests with 17 points and 10 rebounds, as well as three steals, against the Celtics.
"He was all over the place from the very beginning," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. "He got his hands on balls, he was aggressive going to the basket offensively, rebounded the ball. ... He had an outstanding game."
On the road trip, Harkless is averaging 13.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.3 steals.
Portland center Enes Kanter will not travel to Toronto for the game on Friday because of immigration issues. Hs will rejoin the team before the game Sunday against the Charlotte Hornets.
In leading the Celtics by as many as 31 points on Tuesday, the Raptors bounced back from Sunday's setback to Orlando, their only loss in an 8-1 February.
"It's always great to come in and bounce back and get a win," said Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard, who scored 21 points against Boston. "I keep saying this, but it's just about us and what we need to do to get better as a team."
Strong defense helped the Raptors produce an 18-0 run in the second quarter that turned the game against the Celtics.
"That was as well as we have helped each other in a long time," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.
"It was early help, it was often. It wasn't perfect but it was hustle and it was working on them. It wasn't quite the right rotations a lot of time but it didn't matter. We were pursuing the ball early, making them make another play and then when they would zing it out to somebody, we would be right under that guy and we did it all over again. We (also) contested shots really well."
The Trail Blazers defeated the Raptors 128-122 in Portland on Dec. 14.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 1, 2019