During a pair of road losses to two Western Conference powers that dropped them seven games below .500 earlier this month, the Portland Trail Blazers saw what an elite team looks like. In the past two weeks, they've shown they can become one - quickly.
The Trail Blazers looks for their ninth consecutive victory for the first time in more than five years on Wednesday when they host the Toronto Raptors.
Portland (13-12) had lost nine of 10 games after falling at San Antonio on Dec. 2. But the Blazers haven't been beaten since, and they've suddenly gone from one of the conference's bottom feeders to a team soaring toward the top of the Northwest Division, averaging 105.0 points and winning by 7.5 points per game during their winning streak.
"When you've won seven in a row you start to believe you can win every game,'' said Blazers guard Brandon Roy, who had 24 points and made key baskets in the fourth quarter of Monday's 88-76 victory over New Orleans.
Roy was named the Western Conference player of the week for the second straight week on Monday after averaging 23.0 points, 6.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds in Portland's four wins. The 2007 Rookie of the Year is the first Trail Blazer to win the award in consecutive weeks since Clyde Drexler in 1987-88.
It's Portland's longest winning streak since a 12-game run from Feb. 17-March 8, 2002, and five of the eight wins have come at the Rose Garden, where the Blazers are 10-3.
While the Blazers struggled offensively in Monday's victory, it was their best defensive effort of the season.
Portland hopes to get a boost against the Raptors with the return of LaMarcus Aldridge. The second-year forward missed the team's past five games due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot, but coach Nate McMillan says he'll return on Wednesday. In the 20 games he's played, he's averaged 18.7 points - more than double from his rookie season - and 7.7 rebounds.
Toronto (15-11) comes into Portland having won five of its last six. Unlike Portland, which has primarily been winning with offense during its hot streak, the Raptors have been thriving due to their defense.
The Raptors yield just 94.6 points per game, but have allowed only 84.0 ppg in their last six. Toronto played well again defensively on Tuesday, limiting the Los Angeles Clippers to 39 percent shooting in an 80-77 road victory despite shooting 37.5 percent. Chris Bosh had a game-high 24 points, and added nine rebounds to become the Raptors' franchise leader with 2,847.
"We feel pretty fortunate. But our defense kept us in it," Bosh said. "That's why you have to play good defense every night, because you're not going to shoot the ball that well every night."
Toronto's success has coincided with the return of Bosh to its lineup. The All-Star center missed five games with a strained groin, but has averaged 20.2 points and 11.0 rebounds in the six games since his return.
Bosh missed both games against Portland last season because of a bruised left knee. The road teams won both games last season, with Toronto needing overtime to beat the Trail Blazers 101-100 in Portland on Dec. 22.
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