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Preview: Carroll could return as Raptors are unleashed upon Thunder

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Carroll's status could swing the game, because he's the Raps' only answer to KD.

Steven Adams had some quixotic times back in the eighties.
Steven Adams had some quixotic times back in the eighties.
W. Bennett Berry

If the Raptors win tonight, they'll beat their all-time record for franchise wins. Toronto has only had an NBA team since 1995, but that's still huge. Nevertheless, it's clear that this Raptors team is aiming for more. Toronto is just 2 losses behind Cleveland for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, with 10 games to go.

Moreover, Raptor fans have never seen their team leave the first round of the playoffs. Any wins that would advance the Raptors towards an easier achievement of a first round victory are incredibly valuable. In other words, the Raptors want this late-season win much more than the Spurs might have.

The Raptors beat OKC because we forgot to play Adams

The Thunder's loss against the Raptors back on November 4th was a complete disaster. OKC led the entire way, save for a couple of minutes around halftime and the final minute of the game. Here's how it went down, in as few words as possible.

  • 2:18 - Thunder up 6.
  • 2:11 - Roberson switches onto Valanciunas in a pick and roll, and is forced to foul. Valanciunas sinks the FT. Thunder up 4.
  • 1:57 - Lowry successfully hedges the Durant/Ibaka pick and roll. This forces a Dion 3, which falls short.
  • 1:36 - The missed Dion 3 forces transition. This gets Lowry in a mismatch with Andre Roberson. Lowry was able to cross over Roberson, and hit a close floater. Thunder up by 2.
  • 1:25 - Westbrook is doubled in the backcourt, a timeout is forced.
  • 1:17 - Faking around a Durant screen, Westbrook gets to the rim. Valanciunas meets him, forcing a miss. Ibaka fouls Valanciunas on the rebound. Valanciunas sinks both free throws. Tie game.
  • 0:59 - KD posts up Carroll. With Valanciunas lurking in the paint, KD goes to the turnaround. Clank, Lowry rebounds.
  • 0:47 - DeRozan fakes around a Lowry screen, and makes a mad dash to the basket. Waiters is caught backpedaling. Ibaka is late on the help defense. DeRozan's layup goes in, Raptors up 2.
  • 0:38 - Westbrook makes an aggressive spin move to the rim, but is met at the basket by Valanciunas. DeRozan rebounds.
  • 0:17 - DeRozan keeps the ball, posts up Waiters, and misses the turnaround. But KD, playing power forward at the time, didn't box out his man. Carroll grabbed the rebound, and was immediately fouled by Westbrook. The subsequent FT were sunk by Carroll, putting the Raptors up by 4 and essentially sealing the game.

Let me put it more simply. Virtually every play failed for the Thunder down the stretch because there was no center in the game. The failed offensive possessions, the Raptor drives to the rim, and the critical game-winning offensive rebound could have all been prevented. Ideally, that game-saving center would have been Steven Adams. Indeed, Adams was having an efficient offensive game, scoring 10 points on 5 of 7 shooting in just 26 minutes of action. Heck, Adams was even producing on the defensive end, with 4 blocks. I really don't see why Donovan went small to end the game. Ibaka can't play center in most circumstances, and perhaps this early season game was a painful reminder of that fact.

I will say that Jonas Valanciunas was having a successful offensive game against Adams up to that point. 17 points on the night for Valanciunas. But Adams impact on other areas of the game was obvious. I mean, even Kanter would have been a better option there. Kanter had an impressive 15 points in 17 minutes that night. And that was against Bismack Biyombo!

Anyway, that whole game seems like ancient history at this point. Collison and Augustin got big minutes for the Thunder, but those minutes will likely go to Singler and Payne tonight. Also, Donovan rarely runs Ibaka at center these days.

Raps: Coping without Carroll

On the Raptors' end, DeMarre Carroll has been out since January 3rd with injury. If Carroll were to play tonight, it would be his first game back. The Raptors have had some surprising production out of some unlikely places. From Raptors HQ's rookie week article about Norman Powell:

With the Raptors' starting SF, DeMarre Carroll, out for a large chunk of the year with a knee injury, Powell's had to spend most of the year with the Raptors as an emergency starter or defensive option on the wing. By virtue of good fortune (or bad, depending on your perspective), Powell's had much more of a chance to establish himself in the Raptors' rotation. He's played double-digit minutes on 10 separate occasions, with his three best scoring efforts coming in the past month. His best performance came against Portland on March 4, when he registered 10 points (even hit 2 threes) in 22 vital minutes, along with 6 rebounds.

Powell's certainly looked the more ready to contribute than Wright, especially because his defense is close to NBA quality already.

It's amazing for any second round pick to become a regular contributor on a playoff team, but Powell seems to have achieved that end. Despite all the talk of Powell's defense, he's simply mediocre on an NBA level. According to the advanced stats, Powell lets opponents shoot 48% from two and 51% from three. That's not awful, but Powell is ultimately a stopgap until Carroll gets back. If Durant were able to play Powell tonight, he could get some serious points for OKC.

How tonight should go

Westbrook will have much more difficulty. Most teams try to stop Westbrook with pressure, or simply play him low and force him to shoot. It's rare for a team to rely almost exclusively on their point guards to wrap up Westbrook. But the Raptors have two defensively skilled and athletic PGs in Lowry and Joseph. Moreover, the Raptors have above average rim protectors in Valanciunas and Biyombo. That's not enough to totally stop Westbrook, but it's a big reason why Russ shot 38% against the Raps on November 4th.

I'd expect Roberson to have some trouble with DeRozan. Roberson is generally good against smaller guards that like to shoot, and even athletic guards that like to drive. But DeRozan is a stout, strong guard that can bully his way into the post. Roberson is long and spindly, so will generally give up the two point basket and commit errant fouls. Lowry and Valanciunas will be significant offensive factors as well, especially in the pick and roll against Westbrook and Adams. The Raptors don't really turn the ball over, so OKC's priority should be staying ahead of the ballhandler and protecting the rim. ICE defense would work well here, unless the Raptors just start to light it up from three.

The bench battle should be very revealing. Cameron Payne was consistently abused on defense last Saturday night against the Spurs. Kanter was consistently abused on defense back on November 4th. Both will likely be challenged on that end today. Dion Waiters will have to work to regain his rhythm after some errant shooting. And many seem to have lost all hope in Foye or Singler becoming offensive threats. Nevertheless, Waiters may be the answer to DeRozan in the clutch.

With all this uncertainty, I still can say one thing with confidence: Anthony Morrow won't be leaving the bench tonight. I know you're all frustrated. But if this ramshackle Thunder team can pull off a win here, we're one step closer to seeing rest games prior to the playoffs. And rest games could provide valuable minutes for our bench, which still needs time to develop. But maybe I'm getting ahead of myself.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 96, Toronto Raptors 95.

What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!

2015-16 NBA Season Game 74
@
51-22
(Won 7)

49-23
(Won 1)
March 28th, 2016
The Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
6:30 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, The Score Network
Injury Report: DeMarre Carroll (Questionable), Terrance Ross (Questionable)
This Season's Matchups: Nov 4 (L 98-103)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Kyle Lowry
Andre Roberson SG DeMar DeRozan
Kevin Durant SF Norman Powell
Serge Ibaka PF Luis Scola
Steven Adams C Jonas Valanciunas