Lillard's absence complicates Portland's woes

Lillard's absence combounds Portland's woes

Mired in a five-game losing streak, Portland hardly resembles the team that advanced to last year’s Western Conference semifinals. An injury to Rip City’s top performer isn’t about to help matters, either.

Having rolled his left ankle in the fourth quarter of Friday’s 110-90 defeat to San Antonio, Damian Lillard won’t suit up for tonight’s contest against Toronto. Online sports book Bovada.lv therefore gives the Raptors odds of -360 to handle their business on the road. Conversely, the Trail Blazers typify +280 underdogs.

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Not only does Lillard currently rank sixth in the league in scoring, his usage rate trails only the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook among Northwest Division standouts. Even in the midst of a 3-9 December, the Weber State product’s been marvelous for coach Terry Stotts. Now reigning Most Improved Player C.J. McCollum must shoulder the offensive load for the foreseeable future.

On the flip side, Toronto’s Dwane Casey knows he can rely on both DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to lead the way. The duo combined for 60 points and 10 rebounds in a pre-Christmas victory at Utah. Impressively, the Raptors (21-8) haven’t dropped a tilt away from Air Canada Centre since Nov. 21.

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For all his brilliance, Lillard still couldn’t mask the entirety of the Blazers’ (13-19) shortcomings by himself. So how will this group react without its floor general? We genuinely expect an inspired effort, particularly in the first half. Eventually, however, the visitors’ superiority should put a hush over the Moda Center crowd.

MONDAY NBA FREE PICK: TRAIL BLAZERS +8

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