The Portland Trail Blazers have gotten off to a solid start to 2008-09, as they own the exact same record after 30 games as they did last season. Unlike a year ago, though, Brandon Roy hopes this season’s team can continue to improve and make a playoff run.
The Trail Blazers look to bounce back Saturday from a disappointing loss when they host the Toronto Raptors, who are trying to win three straight games for the first time since the start of the season.
Portland (18-12) also had 18 wins after 30 games last season - sparked by a 13-game win streak in December - but went just 23-29 the rest of the way to miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season.
This season, the Trail Blazers are in sixth place in the Western Conference, just a game back of Northwest Division-leading Denver, and Roy is hoping the team can avoid a mid-season slide.
“It’s going to be tough, every team is getter better,” Roy said after a 102-94 loss to Dallas on Christmas. “It kind of reminds me of that point last year: Are we going to get better, or are we going to stay the same. We got to try to get better instead of just staying where we are at. That was good for the first two months, but it’s getting serious. We’re to 30 games, so we got to turn it on.”
Roy had 22 points on Thursday, but went scoreless in the fourth quarter, as the Blazers collapsed. Portland led 92-90 with five minutes remaining, but missed its final six shots and was outscored 12-2 the rest of the way.
Steve Blake added 14 points and seven assists on Thursday. Blake scored 19 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 8 seconds left in Portland’s 98-97 win over Toronto (12-17) on Dec. 7.
Roy had 15 points against the Raptors three weeks ago, and is averaging 24.3 points in his last three games versus them.
Toronto’s Jermaine O’Neal scored 24 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked six shots in the loss to the Blazers earlier this month, and is coming off his best game of the season.
In Friday’s 107-101 victory over Sacramento, O’Neal scored 36 points—his highest scoring game since getting 39 for Indiana against Chicago on March 25, 2007.
After missing 40 games last season because of lingering pain from a torn ligament in his left knee, O’Neal had gotten off to a slow start in his Toronto career, but he is once again looking like a five-time All-Star.
O’Neal, who was traded from the Pacers in the offseason, has scored at least 23 points in each of his last three games after topping the 20-point mark just twice in his first 23 games with the Raptors.
“I’m starting to feel like I felt in Indiana. I knew it was going to be a process,” O’Neal said. “The game was a lot faster than I thought it would be, especially being out 40 games last year. It took me a while to get the rhythm.”
Toronto has just one win in its last six trips to Portland, but is starting to improve on the road.
The Raptors have won back-to-back games on a six-game road trip after winning just two of their previous 12 games overall, and are looking to win three straight games for the first time since starting the season 3-0.