It wasn’t my best timed piece of the year, but I like to believe that it lit a fire beneath Bosh to step up and be the leader that he can be. It also lit a fire underneath Bargnani and Turkoglu to actually perform and make themselves useful. Winning in the NBA is about recognizing an opportunity and jumping all over it.

You can plan for a game all year, but this isn’t football, and you don’t know how the ball bounces until you step on the court and play it out. This Raptor team has won some huge games (Cleveland, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Orlando), but also dropped a couple gawd-awful ones (Sacramento, Golden State).

A few weeks ago I talked a couple times about every game being a must win until the end of the year. Unfortunately, that level of effort hasn’t been there each game, fortunately the Bulls have been utterly plagued with injury, and on a 9 game losing streak of their own. So while they aren’t out of the playoffs, there is a way to go to maintain a playoff seed (and hopefully move up), as well as building some positive momentum heading into the playoffs. The last thing this team needs is to stumble backwards into the first round and get rolled over by whoever we end up play (it looks like Cleveland for now).

That process was started Wednesday against the Hawks, where the Raptors hung around until the last 2 minutes of the game, then grabbed the bull by the horns and won it on a Chris Bosh jumper with 2 seconds left. With 16 games left (8 on the road and 4 back-to-backs), that game could be a turning point for the Raptors; they just need to build on the positives that came out of it, and apply it to the rest.

They can start tonight against the Thunder, who dropped a tough game to the Bobcats on Wednesday. I checked in with Royce Young from Daily Thunder about his team:

Russell Westbrook has had some MONSTER games the last month. While Kevin Durant is the franchise, would it be fair to say that as Westrbook goes, so do the Thunder? Is it overshooting to put him in the same league as Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Derick Rose?
It’s absolutely fair to say as Westbrook goes, so do the Thunder. When he dishes out 10 or more assists, the Thunder plays over .700 basketball. Since he’s made his big progression starting in the middle of December, OKC is 28-11. Durant is the best player on the team and obviously the most valuable, but Westbrook is a close second. A lot of the opportunities to score Durant gets are created by Westbrook. As for putting him in the upper tier of point guards, I don’t think we’re there yet. Though you could make a strong case he’s outperformed Rose to this point in their careers.

Given how the Thunder have owned the Jazz all year, and are a game and a half out of 8th, how important is it to maintain the 5th seed? Is Utah the desired match-up?
Utah is absolutely the desired matchup. The things Utah struggles with – length, athleticism, speed, youth – Oklahoma City has. I think the 3-0 record is a little misleading in the sense that people think OKC owns Utah, but if there’s one team the Thunder wants matchup-wise, it’s the Jazz.

One of the rumours I’ve heard as a possible destination for Chris Bosh is Oklahoma City, would he be a good fit? How does Durant at PF and Bosh at C sound to you (match-up hell)?
Yeah that’s something Thunder fans talk about a lot. While I don’t see it happening, it is fun to think about. Bosh could definitely start at center, giving OKC a front line of Durant, Jeff Green and Bosh with the super-athletic Serge Ibaka and gritty Nick Collison coming off the bench. I’d say the Thunder would be a 60-win caliber team. But again, the chances of Bosh coming to OKC are pretty slim.

I always thought Toronto Raptor fans were crazy-obsessed…until I stumbled on your blog earlier in the year and just fell in love with the discussion you guys get. All I can say is wow! Talk about OKC fans and their passion for the game.
I can’t say how unbelievably impressive it is how dedicated Thunder fans are. It’s a true passion right now. Maybe a little bit of it is still infatuation with the new girl in town, but I think Thunder fans are some of the best. A game never has fewer than 17,000 at it (capacity 18,206). This state is college football crazed, but with the Thunder being the only pro sport in town, I think a good comparison for what OKC will be is what Green Bay is with the Packers. I feel incredibly fortunate to get to root for these guys in this city. The team is fun, management is wonderful and the fan base is excited and passionate. It’s really a perfect combination.

With Calderon starting, he will have his hands absolutely full with Westbrook, who is fast becoming one of my favourite players in the league. Over the last 10, Westbrook is averaging 17.2pts 4.9ast 9.7ast while shooting 50.8% from the field. Don’t fool yourselves, the Raptors beat the Hawks because Bargnani and Turkoglu stepped up, not because of Jose’s insertion into the starting 5 (Bibby is an old man). Tonight, it probably will get a bit ugly for Jose. I almost don’t even mind if Westbrook drops 30 from the perimeter if Calderon stays in front of him and keeps him out of the paint (limiting penetration and distribution).

The Thunder have missed Hardens perimeter scoring recently, so his expected return to the lineup tonight (as of publishing this piece) is a big boon for OKC. Kyle Weaver has contributed exactly zero in his absence, something we’ve come to expect from far too many of our own; sadly.

For this team to have any hope of going into the post-season on a positive note, they will need both Bargnani and Turkoglu to give that same level of effort and production they got from the the Hawks game.

Bargnani won’t have his hands as full as he did with Smith, and whatever Hedo hives up on defense, he should be able to get back on offense. Hedo especially needs to keep Durant out of the paint, and by extension, off the foul line where he wreaks most of his havoc.

All said and done, this game comes back to the point, and how well a job Calderon and Jack do at keeping Westbrook in check. The Thunder are 1.5 point favourites with an over/under of 209; not exactly a big endorsement for them, especially since they are on the road. This is anyones game, so expect a high scoring affair with big swings.

Come join us at Sports Centre Cafe tonight for Raptor Fans Friday.

For all our Persian readers, happy Naw Ruz (New Year)!

facebooktwittergoogle_plustumblrmail

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,