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Gameday: Thunder @ Raptors, December 8

Toronto hosts Aleksej Pokusevski and the Oklahoma City Thunder with aspirations to extend their cute little winning streak to 3.

10 mins read
Photo via SI.com

Lookin’ back, every team – unless you’re the Bulls or Lakers or Warriors of the past – has a turning point (or 2, or 3) in a season.

Last year, for the Raps, it was a traumatic one.

They started off the year flatter than a forgotten bottle of cola under the car seat at 2-8. (Boyyyy oh boyyyy, did the Siakam hatred mount).

They figured out the next little while and, then, whoosh, surged, going 10-5 and beating Milwaukee twice and Philli once.

Another win would’ve returned them to .500; a second life reborn in the Gulf of Mexico.

Then, the infamous February 26th home game against Detroit.

You know the rest of the story. Pascal, OG, FVV out and:

L
L
L
L
L
L
L
L
L
W
L
L
L
L
W

It’s always interesting to look back at these transitional moments – basketball or otherwise (if you haven’t read the sequence of events that led to Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, I suggest doing so, it involves an [un]timely sandwich) – and wonder the what-if’s. The counterfactual meanderings of a desperately hopeful fan.

The trade deadline is a lot different if we’re climbing the standings.

Another playoff push keeps Lowry around? Matt Thomas max contract? No Gary? A real centre? Gulp…no Scottie.

Who knows? Fun to think about. Useless exercise. Nothing to do with right now.

Oh, ya, now.

Well, the Raptors, after a sweet 5-0 run early this season, cratered losing 7 of their next 10.

That was kinda to be expected with the injuries and schematic learnings this young team’s undergoing.

Now, though, after grinding out the Giannis-less Milwaukee Bucks and top-rope-flying-elbowing the faltering Washington Wizards, the Raptors approach a turning point.

Tonight, it’s the historically bad (more on that soon), Oklahoma City Thunder.

Then the New York Knicks.

Then the Sacramento Kings.

Then Brook…uhh ya so that could be a 5-game win streak by Tuesday morning.

And it would put the Raptors at 14-11, which, were it today, would tie them for 4th in the Eastern Conference.

Wild, hey?

The Skinny

Ya ya ya ya, I got ahead of myself.

First, we have to take care of businazz.

And while I’d say the Oklahoma City Thunder are a given. I shall refrain from such assumptions.

I want to scratch in the W because only days ago the lowly Thunder – without their Canadian-born star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Australian allure, Josh Giddey – lost by an NBA-record 73 points to the Memphis Grizzlies who were without(!) Ja Morant.

The Thunder, now, possess both the worst home loss and worst road loss in NBA history.

Thought exercise: does this kind of misery make OKC ownership and Sam Presti look in the mirror. Is there a direct emergency hotline from the Board of Directors to Presti’s cave lair?

Red phone flashes.

Sam calmly puts his Arnold Palmer with two ice cubes and a reusable straw down on his obsidian coffee table. Without breaking his concentration on the KK Mega Leks practice tapes, he picks up the phone.

“Sammie, Sammie, you there, Son? You darn tootin’ see what there went on widdat dang gonnit Game? ‘Gainst them Grizzlies too; ain’t nothin’ worse than losin’ to dem bunch of Elvis lovin’ excuses for the south!?”

“I did.”

“Whatchu gonna do bouddit, Sammie? We the laughin’ stock of every saloon and oil rig this side of the Mississippi!?”

“Do? Nothing, of course.”

“Tarnations, Sammie, you bedder get some’in’ done. If we don’t start winnin’ games, your ass is dynamite in a whiskey bath, you hear me boy!?”

“Mhm.”

Click.

I mean, there’s a critical mass of unbearable losing for every team. Even the Process 76ers had to face the music – at Sam Hinkie’s expense. Does such a loss make things too intolerable? Does OKC make a trade or 2 with their Google server-sized cache of picks and prospects to make themselves competitive?

Does Sammie ring up his ol’ time padna’ Darryl:

Dort, Giddey, and 2 picks for Ben Simmons?

Or, holler at Indiana:

Derrick Favours, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and several picks for the return of Domatas Sabonis?

I’m just spittin’ tumbleweeds here, folks.

Anyway, assumptions can’t be taken for granted.

Oklahoma redeemed thyselves with a come-from-behind win (+20 in the 4th q) against Detroit on Monday. Detroit beat our asses a couple of weeks back. We beat Memphis with Ja then lost to Memphis without Ja, and Memphis decapitated the Thunder. So who the Hell knows what!?

Toronto’s still without OG and Khem. Nurse said of their futures:

That’s fine. The team’s starting to find its rythym and adjust to life without their best defender (arguably) and best rebounder. Specifically, Toronto’s D has gelatinated of late. In their last 5 games they’ve allowed, 97, 97, 91, 97, and 102 points. That’s scoring suffocation for 2021.

Oklahoma City has the worst offence in the league. They attack and score mostly in the paint and struggle from three. Normally, this would be some cause for concern, but, in the last month, Toronto has the 4th best at-rim defensive presence in the league. That spells trouble for a team squeezing points from stone.

Game Plan

Make life miserable for SGA. Bottle him up. He’s a devastating paint slicer and playmaker. Worst case: let him shoot the 3 where he’s 31% so far this year on 127 attempts. That’s not just a game plan, but a future plan.

Oh, did I forget to mention? This game is not only about the win column but our franchise’s fate. SGA’s the final piece of the puzzle. If you’re attending the game, you better be chanting: “S-G-A is a RAPTORRR”. Every second of the game.

For those of you who choose not to spend your entire income tax refund on nosebleeds, you can email [email protected] and kindly request he consider signing somewhere where cowboy hats are a one-time-a-year accessory item only.

Other than that, Josh Giddey likes to muck things up and, already, has an Outstanding in his Ordinary Wizarding Passing Level; Luguentz Dort – who you can also chant “DORT is a RAPTORRRR” – can get hot, but has trouble creating his own shot, so make him do so. No one, but Mike Muscala and Kenrich Williams are shooting over 33% from 3. If there’s a time to be aggro and give up the weakside corner 3, this would be it.

Game Info

Tip-Off: 7:30pm EST | TV: Sportsnet; BSKZ | Radio: TSN 1050

Raptors Lineup

OG Anunoby (hip pointer) and Khem Birch (knee) are out. Goran Dragić has returned to Slovenia for personal reasons.

PG: Fred VanVleet, Dalano Banton, Malachi Flynn

SG: Gary Trent Jr., Svi Mykhailiuk

SF: Scottie Barnes, Yuta Watanabe, Isaac Bonga

PF: Pascal Siakam, ChrIS BACKher, Justin Champagnie

C: Precious Achuiwa

Thunder Lineup

PG: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Tre Mann, Théo Maledon, Aleksej Pokusevski

SG: Luguentz Dort, Ty Jerome, Aleksej Pokusevski

SF: Josh Giddey, Kenrich Williams, Gabriel Deck, Aleksej Pokusevski

PF: Darius Bazley, Mike Muscala, [our boy] Paul Watson, Aleksej Pokusevski

C: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Derrick Favours, Isaiah Roby, Aleksej Pokusevski

The Line

Moneyline: OKC +265; Raps -340

Spread: Raptors -7

O/U: 208

Adon’s thoughts: In the last 5 games, guess who are the two worst scoring teams in the league: 29th Oklahoma City; 30th Toronto. That’s a convincing stat for the under. Raps have more firepower, more experience, and are at home. Good enough for me.

Conclusion:  Raps; Raps -7; Under.

Bet wisely, friends.

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