Thunder (51-22, 21-13 road) vs. Raptors (49-23, 28-8 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 6:30 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 109.9 (2nd), Raptors – 107.1 (5th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 102.8 (12th), Raptors – 102.6 (11th)
There’s a saying in sports that you play whoever is in front of you. Whether they are a scrap heap of a team or whether they are the best thing in the sport, you still have to play them. The key is to remain consistent in yourself. The Oklahoma City Thunder have struggled with that consistency throughout the season, as do many other teams. When teams play one of the top teams, they usually bring their A-game and turn it into a competitive affair. When teams play one of the bottom-dwellers, the energy level for the favorite in that game may wane because of the lack of adrenaline the game brings to the table.
In their last game, the Thunder could have fallen into the trap of playing a scrap heap team when the Spurs decided to sit their top five players. And for most of the first half, it seemed like they would sleep-walk their way into a highly competitive game or outright lose the game. Instead, they adjusted their level of play heading into halftime and never looked back from there, coasting to a 19-point victory.
If there is something that the team has shown in this recent seven game win streak, it has been consistency. They’ve played some good teams and they’ve played some bad teams. But they’ve played basically the same in every game: a lot of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, with some Enes Kanter mixed in there. That formula, along with some of the other role players stepping up, has allowed the Thunder to jump out to big leads in most of the games during this current win streak, and has allowed them to rest some along the way. Rest, that will go a long way to helping the main players on the Thunder produce in the playoffs.
This is the second and final meeting of the season between the Thunder and Raptors. In their previous meeting, early in the season, the Raptors used a 30-17 4th quarter to beat the Thunder 103-98. The Raptors were very much the aggressors in that game, as they shot 39 free throws, compared to 14 for the Thunder. That’s not even taking into account that two of those free throws for the Thunder were for technicals called on Raptors’ players. In fact, the Raptors shot almost the same amount of free throws in the 4th quarter (13) as the Thunder did for the game.
The Raptors currently finding themselves with a 49-23 record, sitting 2.5 games back of the Cleveland Cavaliers for first in the Eastern Conference. They are an extremely deep team that is a good combination of experience and athleticism. They feature 9 players that average 16 minutes or more per game (actually 10, but DeMarre Carroll has missed most of the season with a knee injury).
The Raptors are led by one of the best backcourts in the league in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. DeRozan leads the team in scoring at 23.6 points per game, while also providing 4.4 rebounds and nearly 4 assists per game. One of his biggest strengths is his ability to draw fouls, as he is 3rd in the league in free throw attempts at 8.6 per game. Lowry is one of the more multifaceted point guards in the league, averaging 21.7 points on 38.7% shooting from three, to go along with 4.9 boards, 6.5 assists, and 2.1 steals per game.
Up front is where the depth becomes a strength for the Raptors. The Raptors feature five rotational bigs with a variety of skills and abilities. Jonas Valanciunas is a tough cover inside and is athletic enough to move around pretty good on defense. Bismack Biyombo is one of the best defensive bigs in the league. Patrick Patterson, Luis Scola, and Jason Thompson all offer an array of skills offensively, while being average on the defensive end. They also have depth in the backcourt with Cory Joseph being one of the more consistent back-up point guards in the league, and Terrence Ross being a JR Smith-type that can catch fire at any time and put points up quickly. Ross is questionable for this game with an injured hand.
3 Big Things1. Defend Without Fouling
A lot easier said than done with the Raptors. Their offense is heavily predicated on DeRozan and Lowry’s ability to get into the paint. Instead of just kicking it out to shooters once they get in the paint, those two players have the ability to also finish at the rim. With the PF-big usually on the perimeter with Scola or Patterson, that leaves just the center, who has to stay with Valanciunas or Biyombo, and the wing defender on DeRozan and Lowry. Those odds usually lead either to an easy bucket or a foul. The Raptors are 2nd in the league in FTA% at 33.5%. What that basically means is that for every three shots they put up, they shoot FTs. In addition, they get about 20.6% of the points from the FT line.2. Defend the Paint
The Raptors are a strange team in that they shoot the 3-point shot at a high percentage (36.9%, 3rd in the league), but attempt only 23.2 attempts per game, which is 18th in the league. What that means to me is that they are selective on when they shoot 3’s. They would much rather drive the ball into the paint than to shoot a bad 3-point shot. Which is why the Thunder have to try and shut down the drives to the paint. If they can do that, then the Raptors have to operate from 15 feet out, which is something they are not too comfortable with.3. Bench
Again, the Raptors are one of the deepest teams in the league. They have good, experienced players coming off their bench that don’t make many mistakes. The Thunder will need a good game from their reserves and will need someone other than just Enes Kanter to step up. Be that Randy Foye, Dion Waiters, or Cam Payne, but Thunder will need production from their bench to win this game.
DeMar DeRozan – DeRozan scored 28 points while shooting 14-15 from the line the last time these two teams met. He has the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the hole or he can just pull it up from mid-range. With Kyle Lowry struggling with an elbow injury the last few games, it’ll be on DeRozan to carry the Raptors tonight.