Thunder vs. Raptors: Pregame Primer
Thunder (38-29, 13-20 road) vs. Raptors (38-28, 22-11 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 6:00 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 104.8 (18th), Raptors – 110.1 (4th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 105.4 (10th), Raptors – 105.5 (13th)
There’s a common misconception that Russell Westbrook does everything that he does based fully off of instinct. A lot like the Lil Uzi Vert song that is featured on Westbrook’s Jordan XXXI commercial, many think that he does what he wants when he’s out there on the floor. That he shoots when he wants, passes when he wants, rebounds when he wants, and defends when he wants. But there is a method to Westbrook’s apparent madness, and in that method, there is a genius. A genuine student of the game.
And that has become very apparent in the quick chemistry that has formed between Westbrook and Taj Gibson. In the three games since becoming a starter, Gibson has averaged 13 points per game on 54.5% shooting from the field. But aside from the points and FG%, it’s how Gibson is working within the offense. Gibson does not have an elite offensive skills. Over the course of his 7-year career, he’s only averaged double-digits twice, topping out at 13 points per game in 2013-14. He’s not a floor spacer from deep and can be a bit inconsistent from the mid-range and the post. But Westbrook has made it a point to find Gibson on fast-break pin downs and pick and pops. That isn’t something that just develops over a 10-game period. As a student of the game, Westbrook makes it a point to meticulously watch film and incorporate what he sees into games. You can bet the chemistry that has formed between Westbrook and Gibson is not something accidental, but instead, something that has been studied and practiced.
Season Series Summary
This is the second and final meeting of the season between the Thunder and Raptors. The Raptors defeated the Thunder in Oklahoma City in early November, 112-102.
Three Big Things
1. DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan did the Thunder in during their first meeting this season. He started off slow, as Andre Roberson blanketed him for much of the first quarter, but eventually he got it going and finished the evening with 37 points. Most of his damage comes from the mid-range and from the free-throw line. He’s the antithesis for today’s game. Where James Harden uses the 3-point shot to get the rest of his offense going, DeRozan instead, stays away from the three-point line and chooses to do his work in a crowded phone booth. You would think it would be easier for Roberson to defend DeRozan since he doesn’t have to worry about the 3-point shot, but DeRozan is just an anomaly.
2. Points in the Paint
The Raptors are the 9th best team at defending the paint. The Thunder, on the other hand, are the 2nd best team at scoring in the paint. If the Thunder are able to do their thing on the inside, especially when Enes Kanter is in the game with the reserves, the Thunder may be able to turn this game in their favor.
With Kyle Lowry out, Cory Joseph has been the starting point guard for the Raptors. Joseph doesn’t strike me as the kind of player that can guard Westbrook effectively (like 99% of the rest of the NBA). The Raptors will try to funnel Westbrook into Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka, but with the way he’s been passing the ball, this make work in the Thunder’s favor.