cavsraps
Toronto Raptors Oklahoma City Thunder December 3, 2010

Sorry I wasn’t able to do a pre-game on Wednesday, I literally had zero time to sleep much less put something together for us to talk about. The Raptors seem to be 2-0 in games I don’t handle the pre-game duties for; just putting it out there.

It wasn’t even that they beat the Wizards, Arse had it right when he said they inflicted violence on them. It was payback for the loss the Wizard handed sans John Wall; side note: it always kills me when you play a team, a mediocre one, who’s missing their best player and they beat you anyways. Regardless, the Raptors were able to exact some revenge, without Evans, and run them into the ground (a split on the season isn’t so bad now that I look back on it).

I’m super stoked about tonight’s game. I’ve seen three Thunder games already this season, and these guys are fun as hell to watch, and so are the Raptors making this a game I’ve been looking forward too. They have two of the best players (or the two best, depending on who you talk too – I’m one of these guys) at their position and have a bunch of talented kids on the rookie salary scale playing out of their minds (their payroll is under $59mil). At some point, this team will have to start taking a hard look at which of them they keep, rest assured, Durant and Westbrook will there for a long-long time.

I got stood up by the Thunder blogger, but here are the questions I sent his way:

38-15-9, I literally fired up league pass broadband to watch this game this morning, and WOW! Durant has missed three games (so far) this season, and Westbrook has led them to three victories in his absence. I have him ranked as the the best point guard in the league, especially when you consider he’s still on the rookie salary scale. Comment.

Durant’s three point shooting has dipped considerably, while his shot attempts have increased; what’s going on?

Presti has done a masterful job at helm. The teams payroll is $58mill, and with all the rookie scale salaries being paid, this team looks to be in excellent shape for the future. When all these contracts start coming up for resigning, who gets left out?

When does Presti win executive of the year?

Injury Report

Toronto
Reggie Evans – Out
Peja Stojakovic – Day to day

Oklahoma City
Kevin Durant – Knee, Probable
Nenad Krstic – Probable

Match-ups

Point Guard
It starts and ends with Westbrook. Durant might get all the press, but Westbrook was able to lead the Thunder to a 3-0 record in Kevin’s absence; that’s something to talk about and be scared of. Westbrook is really good. He’s literally taking it up to an elite-like level this season. The guy is super athletic, able to easily penetrate and get to the line (9.5 attempts a game). Scoring? 24.6 a game. Playmaking? 8.6 dimes. Rebounding? 5.6. Defense? He’s big, strong and fast aka elite defender. So there you have it, a perfect point guard to run this OKC offense. There are some kinks in the armour though. For all the scoring opportunities Russell creates for his team, the Thunder as a whole are terrible at sharing the ball, averaging 18.3 assists a game (good for second worst in the league). As well, Westbrooks jumper is a bit a lot shaky, and has been known to force things on more than a few occasions.

Russell Westbrook Shot Chart

I would suggest letting him take as many long J’s as he wants, and collapse on him as early as possible to avoid him geting deep into the paint. As you can tell from his shot chart, the further out he gets, the more he misses. What you may not know is that Westbrook is pretty brutal at finishing at the rim as well (he’s actually generally a poor shooter, just able to get to the line a lot), where he only converted 49% of his attempts. Help defense off the dribble will be crucial to keep this kid under control. At the rim, I like both Bargnani’s, Johnson’s and Davis’ length to bother him. Notice I didn’t say anything about Calderon; the fact is, he’s playing well the last few games, but grossly outclassed. If he can hit his shots, move the ball and lead the break, it’s really all we can expect cause he’s not stopping Westbrook.
Edge: Oklahoma City

Shooting Guard
The Thunder literally STOLE Sefolosha from the Bulls. It wasn’t even fair how cheaply they picked him up for – a 2nd rounder or two…Presti is ridiculous. Thabo is one of the better defenders at the shooting guard in the league, but is really no threat on the offensive end. DeMar…the optimist in me says he follows a very strong bounce-back game against the Wizards with another one tonight, but the cynic in me thinks he wont. DeMar still needs a little bit more time to be able to really get after an elite-level defender like Thabo, and take it to him in different ways to get him into foul trouble. Yes, he will have a couple big moves, but anything he provides at this point, to me anyways, will be gravy.

Thabo Sefolosha Shot Chart

Defensively, the further he can keep Thabo from the rim the better. Thabo will hit the occasional jumper, but that’s the plan, and you gotta stick to it. I like the dynamic that Barbosa will bring tonight, since he pushes the ball so effectively in transition. Barbosa could look to get Thabo in foul trouble, forcing him to lighten up on defense against him and DeRozan. I’d normally like DeMar to do that, but he hasn’t shown much promise in drawing contact off the dribble at any consistent clip.
Edge: Toronto

Small Forward
So in my fantasy league, we had a $200 budget to buy 13 players for our teams. I spent 90 0f that on one guy: Kevin Durant. For the most part, I follow him through my fantasy league, and the one thing that has struck me is how consistently amazing he is. Every game he can be counted on to score 25pts+ grab 6rebs+, get to the line a lot and convert a lot of those bad boys. I don’t even know what it’s like to watch a player like that on a game-to-game basis. Actually makes me sad that we’ve never had a player as close to Durant since VC used to give a crap. KD is a game-time decision, but if he’s out, Green is more than capable of filling this slot, giving the Thunder front court a pretty big/mobile dynamic.

Kevin Durant Shot Chart

If Durant is playing, Sonny will need to play off him a bit and let him shoot long jumpers and 3s to his heart content and hope he doesn’t find his range. If Green is in, I expect Kleiza to get a bit more burn as he has the size to bump him on both ends of the floor.

If Durant is feeling it early, and Julian Wright doesn’t get 12min+, Triano needs to be questioned vigilantly. Not saying Julian is going to shut down KD, but he has the best shot at slowing him down with his length and athleticism.
Edge: Thunder

Power Forward
While he may have come back a bit too early from his injury, Ed Davis brought the goods, and looked damn good doing it. Ibaka and Green are a formidable duo, providing a one-two punch of scoring and defense. If Amir and Ed didn’t have to worry about the Thunders ridiculous dribble penetration, then they would be able to hold the fort down. However, they have to worry about the wings getting beat off the dribble, and Bargnani’s inability to rotate on the defense, all the while worrying about their own man. If Green and Ibaka come out on top tonight, it won’t be because they outplayed our guys, it will be because they had little help.

Serge Ibaka Shot Chart

Edge: Even

Center
20pts 11rebs 2blks tonight is what I’m looking to Bargnani for. With Evans out, he HAS to pick up some of the rebounding slack, if not a great deal of it. Krstic really shouldn’t be a factor tonic, and Collison isn’t fully healthy. I got nothing else here, sick of Bargnani just being a one-trick pony (note: being able to score in different ways doesn’t mean you have more than one trick; it all rolls up to scoring, nothing else).

Nenad Krstic Shot Chart

Edge: Toronto

Keys to the Game

Offensive Rebounding
The Thunder absolutely excel when Westbrook has a head of steam in the open court. A lot of that can be traced back to their rebounding, where they are 13th in rebounding in the league (Raptors are 12th). The break always starts off of bad/missed shots, and with Evans out, the Raptors aren’t as effective on the offensive glass. Bargnani needs to make extra effort on the offensive glass, and help Amir, Ed and Joey tonight or this could get ugly fast.

Don’t Get Into an Early Hole
Its not that the Thunder can shut the Raptors down defensively, it’s that their offense can run us into the red rather quickly. The Thunder have a lot of weapons, and if Durant is healthy, will have a loaded bazooka aimed at the Raptors basket. Expending energy on catching up will only create the illusion that the Raptors are playing hard, when in fact, the key ingredients of focus, execution and defense will be left in the pot that Triano will be left stirring wondering WTF went wrong,

Perimeter Defense
Bargnani, Johnson and Davis can’t have wave-after-wave of Westbrook and Durant coming at them if the Raptors want to put themselves in a position to take this game; it just doesn’t work like that. Folks have to hedge on screens, play defense with their feet (and not their hands), and make the Thunder beat us with the jumper. Much easier said than done, but Triano will need to play the lineups for there to be any hope; Julian Wright for one should get some burn.

Sports Center Cafe will be hopping tonight if you want to get out of the house.

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