Records: The Oklahoma City Thunder (45-23) vs. The Toronto Raptors (19-49)
Time: 6:00 PM Central Standard Time
Place: Oklahoma City Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
TV: FSOKHD, TSN
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), 99X 97.9 FM
Enemy Blog(s): Raptors HQ, Raptors Republic, Dino Nation Blog
Previous Meeting(s): Raptors 111, Thunder 99
When we last visited the Toronto Raptors, they were not yet terrible and doing their best impression of the 2006 Suns. It was one of those games where, if it was the only time you saw the Raptors play, you might think they were one of the top six teams in the East. What became increasingly clear in the months thereafter is that they are in fact NOT one of the best teams in the East, but rather, one of the worst. And that is what I think made this loss the worst one of the year. Not the Spurs massacre on New Year's, not the crushing Grizzlies losses, and not the early season Clippers game, but this one because it showed how disinterested early on in the season the Thunder were. Don't forget that Kevin Durant was injured in the first game, and his 28 points per might very well have made a difference. However, I would contend that the attitude of the Thunder is what made the game truly distasteful.
Of course, since then the Raptors have descended into the ranks of the lottery, while the Thunder have not only weathered the early season storm but recently began to put things together on both ends of the court. I think tonight's game will be a good demonstration as to how the two teams' fortunes have diverged this season.
I think this quote taken from SB Nation's RaptorsHQ says it well:
This game represents the perfect opportunity for us to get closer in the race for a top draft pick.
Shine on, Raptors fans. Shine on.
Here are a list of things that I think will be different this time around:
- I do not expect Jose Calderon to get the best of Russell Westbrook again. In game one, Westbrook posted a 20 and seven, but also had five turnovers. Calderon on the other hand only had eight points, but he tallied 15 assists against only one turnover. He completely confounded the Thunder defense, who seldom put any sort of pressure on the ball or the ball receivers. I expect Westbrook to come out much more aggressive and work to take away a lot of those easy assists.
- I do not expect Andrea Bargnani to do another Larry Bird impression. He really was impressive in game one, and I think that if he tries to go off again against the Thunder he's going to find himself getting bumped and checked mercilessly by Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. Once his personal space gets violated enough, his offensive potency should drop.
- I do expect the Thunder to get more than 34 rebounds. Bargnani collected 12 and Amir Johnson had nine. Meanwhile, the Thunder's best rebounder that night was the guard Thabo Sefolosha with seven. On the other end, the Thunder had a total of 12 by their front line of Serge Ibaka, Nenad Krstic, Jeff Green, and Nick Collison. I think this is as indicative of the Thunder's squishy middle as much as anything. Things should be different this time around.
- I expect Kevin Durant to play. Of course this one factor could have swung the first game all by itself. What we're continuing to see these past few games is the emergence of Kevin Durant the playmaker. We know he can get 40 against a strong defense (Hornets). What we didn't know is if he could cut down his turnovers and make good passes. He's done both in the past few games, and it makes the entire team much more dynamic. Since the Raptors do not have a lock-down defender who can stay with Durant, I'd look forward to lots of pin down screens and curls for Durant. And then once he has that part of his game working, he'll begin to work the defense once more.
Prediction: Thunder 101, Raptors 85