Raptors (4-2, 1-0 road) vs. Thunder (6-1, 4-0 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 7:00 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 97.1 (25th), Raptors – 105.5 (9th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 94.6 (3rd), Raptors – 99.9 (7th)
The Oklahoma City Thunder come into Wednesday night’s game with a 6-1 record, which is currently first in the Western Conference standings by virtue of a head to head victory against the team they are currently tied with, the Los Angeles Clippers. The last two games have gone so well for the Thunder that Russell Westbrook has yet to set foot on the court in the fourth quarter during that time span. The same could have been said for the other starters, but Thunder head coach Billy Donovan decided to give the other four starters some playing time in the fourth quarter of the Miami Heat game.
The record itself is a bit of a surprise because many thought the Thunder would need at least the first quarter of the season to gel after the departures of two starters. Instead, the Thunder have found ways to win games, despite not always having chemistry on the floor. One of the biggest reasons they are winning games is their defense. They currently rank 3rd in the league in defensive rating and allow just 97.9 points per game (good for 7th in the league). Last season they struggled with consistency on that end of the floor, but this season, the combination of Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson, and a motivated Westbrook is keeping teams from scoring while the Thunder work on their consistency on the offensive end of the floor.
Season Series Preview
This is the first of two meetings this season between the Thunder and Raptors. The team split their season series last year, with each team winning on the other’s home floor.
The Raptors come into this game with a 4-2 record, having benefitted from a home-heavy schedule early in the season. Up to this point, Toronto has played exactly one road game. The team is highly dependent on their All-Star backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. DeRozan is surprisingly leading the league in scoring at 33.7 points per game. His game has gotten a lot more efficient as he focuses more on his strengths (mid-range and getting to the line) and eschews his weaknesses (3-point shooting). Lowry continues to be one of the top attacking point guards in the league, averaging 17 points and 6 assists per game.
Center Jonas Valanciunas is currently having his best season as a pro, averaging 13.8 points and 11 rebounds per game. He is a game-time decision tonight with a bruised left knee. Terrance Ross continues to be a mixed bag, as far as efficiency goes. In 6 games so far this season, he’s had scoring nights of 20 and 15 points scored, while also having scoring nights of 0 and 7 points scored. The rest of the team is very defensive minded, with DeMarre Carroll minding the perimeter and Patrick Patterson and rookie Pascal Siakam manning the post.
- Cameron Payne (foot)
3 Big Things1. Mid-range defense
Toronto is the quintessential zig to the rest of the league’s zag. While everyone is trying to stretch the floor and run up the pace, the Raptors are content with shooting mid-range jumpers and slowing the game to a half-court grind. They are last in the league in 3-point field goals made per game (5.7) and 3-point field goal percentage (26.2%). Conversely, they get 22.8% of their points from the mid-range, which ranks first in the league. In addition, 67.1% of their 2-point field goals are unassisted.
What all this amounts to is the Raptors are very comfortable playing on a truncated floor. Instead of stretching the defense out to 26 feet, the Raptors do most of their damage 20 feet and in. That is foreign to most teams who have built their defenses to be long and fast. Luckily, the Thunder are built to play a variety of styles and should be fine defensively. Expect to possibly see lots of Jerami Grant tonight as a shot blocker, as the Raptors will be driving a lot to the basket.2. Pace
A lot like the Heat game, the Raptors are one of the slowest teams in the league, getting just 95.6 possessions per game, which is 28th in the league. Conversely, the Thunder like to push it, to the tune of 103.1 possessions per game. If the Thunder force the Raptors to run, they’ll be playing in their element.3. Enes Kanter
Two straight games of 20/10. Toronto is another team that features big, plodding centers in Valanciunas and rookie Jakob Poeltl. Aside from DeRozan and Lowry, the rest of the wings on the roster aren’t adept at taking advantage of the pick and roll. This sounds like another game where Kanter could contribute heavily. As Westbrook would scream, “Keep working his a**, E!”