Gameday: Thunder @ Raptors, Jan. 6

Don’t backslide.

What an awful loss to the Kings. Tomorrow afternoon’s game can go one of two ways: win or lose narrowly, thus reaffirming the hard work and gains, or lose badly and lose a ton of momentum if they don’t handle it well.

Before we get into the breakdown, Royce Young of Daily Thunder was kind enough to answer a few pre-game questions for us.

So that rebuilding strategy you guys used…totally repeatable, right?

Yeah totally. Just draft Kevin Durant. It’s really not all that hard, is it?

Seriously though, everyone wants to talk about mimicking the so-called “Thunder Model” which is really just a regeneration of the “Spurs Model.” A lot of what’s important in taking that approach is to never lose sight of the long-term vision. Draft picks are valuable. Young talent, valuable. Attractive contracts, very valuable. And most importantly, patience.

But for it to work, there has to be a pretty clear, visible plan for fans to understand. The Thunder were fortunate with their situation moving to a very excited city that didn’t care they sucked for a season. But along with that, every Thunder fan could see the pot at the end of the rainbow.

Are the Thunder are a title favorite this year? They look the part, and the swap of Harden for Martin and change sure doesn’t looked to have slowed them down. Still, the West is top-heavy, and there’s always Miami.

I don’t know if “title favorite” is necessary on target, but they’re certainly a contender. After the Harden trade, there were fears and concerns of the potential drop-off the Thunder would feel while they adjusted to a new sixth man, and how they’d manage crunch-time situations.

So far, so very good.

What, if anything at all, could the Raptors try to exploit against the Thunders to eke out a victory?

The Thunder remain a pretty high volume turnover team. There’s a dirty little secret to turnovers: When they happen, you don’t get a shot at the basket, which means it’s impossible to score. I know, complicated. (Note from Blake: #analytics)

But the Thunder have maybe the league’s best offense with three explosive offensive players in Durant, Westbrook and Martin, along with a very solid fourth option in Serge Ibaka. The more possessions you take away from OKC, the less time the ball spends in those four guys’ hands.

Tale of the Tape
O-Rating: OKC 1st (113.1), Toronto 12th (105.1)
D-Rating: OKC 9th (103.5), Toronto 26th (107.8)
Pace: OKC 8th (92.5), Toronto 24th (90.4)
Strength: OKC Basketball (1st), Toronto Ball Control (2nd)
Weakness: OKC Turnovers (30th), Toronto Fouling (30th)

Positional Breakdown
Point Guard – Jose Calderon and Kyle Lowry v. Russell Westbrook and Eric Maynor
Even “bad Westbrook” is actually very good. A fully healthy and committed Lowry would have difficulty with Westbrook, so if it’s anything less than that Lowry, he’ll be torched. And Jose, well, don’t expect much. Offense will be tough, too, as the Thunder have the top defense against pick-and-roll ball-handlers, as well as the eleventh best defense against roll men. The only exploitable area appears to be in transition and for players coming off screens. Of course, transition offense is initiated by defensive stops, so…yeah.

Wings – DeMar DeRozan, Mickael Pietrus, Landry Fields, Terrence Ross and Alan Anderson v. Kevin Durant, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Martin and Reggie Jackson
Kevin Durant
Seriously guys, it’s KD. You can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him. Martin is also very good, though I’d like to see Anderson tasked with disrupting him on the perimeter to see if he can get him out of his flow. Nobody on this team is going to check Durant capably. They’ll probably throw Pietrus on him to start and that won’t work. On offense, the Raptor wings can actually get theirs here. Sefolosha is a very strong defender but plays about equal time as Martin, who isn’t a strong defender, and KD is capable but probably won’t be asked to do a whole lot given the match up. Oh, and Double-A needs to stop being our highest-volume shooter. I like the guy, but he’s not Option 1A.

Bigs – Ed Davis, Amir Johnson’s Six Fouls, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy Slater v. Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins and Hasheem Thabeet
The Raptors might actually be okay here. Ibaka is very good at a lot of things, and Collison is one of my favorite players. However, Perkins is more or less useless in this match-up, so when he’s on the floor it’ll be a plus for the Raptors. With that said, Ibaka is difficult to guard now that he’s hitting jump shots, and Raptor bigs could get in foul trouble by way of having to help on Westbrook and Durant.

The Picks
Vegas: Thunder -7
Hollinger Power Ranking: Thunder -5
Blake: Thunder by 7

I’m being positive and hoping the Raptors can keep it close. If they can, they shouldn’t lose too much of the momentum they had built up, even with the awful Kings loss. The team would then have two days off to regroup before winnable home games against Philly, Charlotte and Milwaukee to get them back on the right track. Things can’t go off the rails again, so play hard and keep it close and who knows? The Nets and Celtics beat this team, and twitter tells me those teams suck, so why can’t the Raptors?

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