GAMETHREAD at 6! If you miss this game, the Thunder will lose AGAIN! Don't become the bad luck charm of OKC, and come discuss the game with us tonight!
Time: 6:00 PM Central Standard Time
Place: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, The Score Television Network
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), CJCL Sportsnet 590 The Fan
Previous Meeting(s): None!
I'll confess something upfront: I haven't seen a Raptors game all year*. In fact, I probably won't watch another Raptors game after tonight. The Raptors are probably this year's most inconspicuous team. All of the other teams that have hit the crapper in the East have some sort of hook. Charlotte is absurdly bad. Washington has John Wall. Cleveland is recovering post-LeBron and has Kyrie Irving. New Jersey has Deron Williams. And Detroit is trying to hold onto a Championship team from 2004. But the Raptors....there's just not too much interesting about them. They're bad, but not absurdly bad. Their stars are a mish-mash of foreign players, and their biggest move this season has been dumping Leandro Barbosa. In fact, if it weren't for The Basketball Jones, I probably wouldn't have caught a peep of Raptors news this season.
Nevertheless, the Raptors are here, and they're as formidable an opponent as anybody. They've won 3 of their last four (including a win at the Sixers), and they bested the Nuggets last week. Their offense runs at a pretty slow pace, rarely shooting before there's ten seconds to go in the shot clock. That being said, they move the ball well, and if they don't succumb to turnovers first, they generally do a good job of finding a solid shot to take.
Defensively, the Raptors are good at guarding spot up shooters and those who try to evade the defense off of the ball, because they generally stick to a man-to-man defense. But they'll get killed in the post, and by quick ball handlers who can find their own shot. They tend to bunch up at the top of the key, and can be easily fooled by a simple pick. Generally, this means the Thunder will find success with Westbrook and Durant in the post, but guys like Perkins and Ibaka will have quiet nights. Unless, of course, their skill set is to the point where they can back down Bargnani, which it very well may be.
The Raptors main weakness is their lack of star power. They're as deep as any other team in the league, but their best players aren't anything to write home about. Andrea Bargnani is a very good offensive player, but nobody would call him great, especially with his mediocre three point percentage. And he's pretty bad on defense. DeRozan, Bayless, and Kleiza are all good in their own right, and might have a great game, but they don't consistently perform at a high level.
Lastly, the Raptors have a bit of a problem with the injury bug. Every player but Ed Davis has missed at least a game, and Jerryd Bayless will be out tonight. Jose Calderon and Gary Forbes are questionable for tonight, as far as I know. If Calderon is out tonight, it would leave them extremely thin at PG, giving way for journeyman Ben Uzoh to start. He's very much in the mold of Bayless and Calderon though, so it shouldn't disrupt the Raptors' flow too much.
All in all, this is a very winnable game for the Thunder. If they can control the pace, get the Raptors unsettled, and make sure that nobody on their team plays beyond their means, this game could be over by the third quarter. But if the Thunder keep making boneheaded plays, letting their stars get trapped, refusing to move the ball, and leaving Derek Fisher in for 26 minutes, then this very well could be a Raptors victory, and a total Thunder travesty. Alliteration for the win!!!!
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 105, Toronto Raptors 94
*This discounts the research I did for tonight's game.