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Game Day: Oklahoma City Thunder at Toronto Raptors – Thunder Roll in at Perfect Time

If I told you the Thunder would arrive at the ACC without the services of All Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, have just eight healthy players and played the night before you’d guarantee a win right?

Well, consider the fact the Thunder lost a close one to the Clippers, beat Denver with an 8-man unit (just one point guard) and finished the week ranked ten spots higher than the Raptors defensively.

Monday, Reggie Jackson returned to the Thunders’ line-up in the blow-out loss to Brooklyn only to see another starter get hurt; Andre Roberson went down with a left foot sprain. As we discussed in this week’s podcast I was curious to see how Roberson (a younger version of Thabo Sefalosha) would affect DeMar DeRozan, but post game Scott Brooks said he won’t play tonight.

For the Raptors, the good news is this game comes on the heels of their first loss, so an undermanned Thunder team should offer the perfect elixir to fix some bad habits common through the first 3-games this season.

  • Focus on defense: opposition has shot an average of 48% through 3-games. Toronto has stated their goal is to finish top 5, but entered the week ranked 23rd on defense.
  • Lack of ball movement/assists: Assist vs. Opposition: Hawks-26, Magic-13, Heat-11. (*Raptors rank league worst 16.7 APG)
  • Inconsistent rebounding
  • Raptors propensity to turn their effort/energy on and off

True, we have a winning record and are a long way from April, however there is no time like the present to nip these bad habits in the bud. Coach Casey and the team can opine on the missed free throws, absence of Amir Johnson or the bench still learning to function as a unit costing us the game in Miami. The reality is the Raptors lacked effort, consistent defense and execution of basic fundamentals.

Line-up Break Down:

Lowry/Jackson:
Jackson’s presence on the court Monday resulted in the Thunder abandoning the one thing that had kept them in 3 out of 4 games: defense. Jackson will be tasked with distributing the ball and carrying the majority of the offensive load. Of note, Jackson was one of the third-year players not offered a contract extension, and enters this season intent on collecting a max (or near max) contract as well as showcasing his talent as a starter.

Look for Lowry to lead the charge in correcting the early season bad habits. Lowry will be tasked with initiating ball movement, getting everyone rolling early as well as establishing defensive intensity. Also, factor in Jackson was forced to play almost 42 minutes in the loss to Brooklyn due to the lack of guards available.

DeRozan/Telfair:
This is a nightmare for the Thunder for copious reasons; Telfair joins Jackson as the only other healthy point guard available. He’ll be moved into the starting line-up at the shooting guard position though due to Roberson’s injury, the result of which should equate to DeRozan scoring at will.

Ross/Jones:
If I had to pick one Raptor who needs a break-out game Terrence Ross tops my list. His assignment will be to show up on both ends of the court, shut down early scoring surprise Perry Jones (24 PPG, 44% from behind the arc the last 3-games) and keep him active defending.

Johnson/Ibaka:
Amir Johnson stated he’d be back in the line-up Tuesday which is great news for Toronto based on the lack of energy and poor display on the defensive end Sunday. Ibaka is a shot-blocking nightmare who is equally adept at scoring in the paint and from range. Alongside Jackson he represents the primary scoring threat.

Valanciunas/Adams:
Two talented young studs who’ll no doubt be amped to out-do one another. Since Adams isn’t about to drift out to shoot perimeter shots he offers the type of center Valanciunas prefers to face. In preseason Valanciunas bested Adams forcing him to foul out in 24 minutes, but he’ll need to win the rebounding battle this time round.

Bench:
Vasquez, Williams, Patterson, Hansbrough, J. Johnson/ Collison, Perkins, Thomas:
The Thunder will host a bench of three barring additions via the NBA Hardship Exception or if Grant Jerrett returns. Sheer numbers dictate that a concerted effort by our bench to lower the hammer early and often should wear out the depleted Thunder.

James Johnson was the best Raptor in the loss Sunday and is giving Casey ample reason to consider additional playing time. Patrick Patterson is beyond due for a break-out performance; his basketball I.Q. has not been truly reflected through the first 3-games leaving me wondering if he’s still injured or just in an early shooting slump.

Bottom line:
Toronto has 4-games this week including two versus division rivals, so tonight offers a unique opportunity. The key will be to get out to an early lead so the starters can get essential rest prior to Wednesday’s match in Bean Town which will feature Toronto’s fourth game in five nights.

In a perfect world the Raptors:

  • Have a huge lead before half
  • Ross and Patterson have break-out nights, especially from behind the arc where Raptors rank 26
  • Apply a full 48-minute defensive effort
  • Gather 25+ assists
  • Demonstrate their killer instinct: step on Thunders’ throat early and don’t let them up for air.

The Thunder will be playing their fifth game in seven nights, so exhaustion has to be mounting. While it’s early in the season the Raptors can utilize this unprecedented opportunity to take the next step by beating the teams they should and capitalize on the ability to garner an advantage to rest core members prior to a back to back.

The line has Toronto favored by 11.5; I say Raptors take care of business early.

Enjoy the game, and make sure to drop in afterward for our post game Quick Reaction.

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