Current Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (50-18), Toronto Raptors (38-29)
Last time they met: Toronto Raptors (104) defeated Oklahoma City Thunder (98)
The Oklahoma City Thunder continue their road trip against the Atlantic Division leading Toronto Raptors, who have put together a terrific season and will be making some noise come playoff time. Oklahoma City managed to hold off a very fast finishing Cleveland Cavaliers team who put the second unit of the Thunder to the sword as head coach Scott Brooks tried to get some rest for his starters. It didn’t work out that way and he had to insert Ibaka and Durant back into the lineup to finish things off.
Last time these teams squared off, the Raptors were able to secure a narrow win behind the stellar play of point guard Kyle Lowry. He will be the focus of a solid defensive effort and Russell Westbrook (who was rested against the Cavs) should be ready to step up and accept the challenge.
The Raptors are coming off a win of their own – a seven point win over the New Orleans Pelicans and DeMar DeRozan was in terrific touch, netting 31 points to lead his team. OKC will not want to take this game lightly and if they are to continue their push for top spot out West, they cannot afford to drop games – even dangerous road games on the second night of a back to back like this is. The Thunder will want to get out of the gate early and not have to rely on working their way back into the game which is tough at the best of times, but harder on the second night on the road.
Kevin Durant vs DeMar DeRozan
Although DeRozan is more suited to the shooting guard position, his strength, size and athleticism allows him to play the small forward spot with effectiveness. He is strong on both sides of the ball which makes this matych up a very interesting one. Both players like to score the basketball and work very hard without it. Durant is coming off a 35 point night, while DeRozan had 31 of his own – so both are in very good touch. If DeRozan (and you can be sure John Salmons also spends time on Durant) can slow him down like they did last time (“holding” KD to just 24pts) while scoring a few of his own, the Raptors are half way to a win.
Russell Westbrook vs Kyle Lowry
Lowry was the instigator in the last encounter, igniting the Raptors and fueling their belief which ultimately allowed them to pull off a resounding win. Westbrook will be fresh after being rested against the Cavaliers and will want to stamp his mark on this game and matchup. The Thunder will want to utilise his freshness and might run a number of plays to allow him to get going early. Lowry has been one of the success stories of the year, going from trade bait to a star point guard and he won’t take a backwards step.
Serge Ibaka vs Amir Johnson
Another night and another double double with a handful of blocks for Ibaka who is really shining as the third wheel in the Thunder rotation. He will be asked to provide his trademark defense as well as counter the production of the big front line of Toronto. Amir Johnson has surprised a lot of people with his play this season and has shown flashes of brilliance. If unmarked he can be a real game changer, so Serge will want to keep him in check. If he can protect the rim from not only Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas but also the driving guards of Lowry, Ross and DeRozan the Thunder will take this one.
Fifty wins already in the bag for the Thunder with their eyes on at least another 10 – that would be the goal. Playing the second night of a back to back on the road is tough, but you don’t win NBA Championships by being soft. They can utilise Westbrook early to give them some spark as he will be raring to go as soon as the balled is tossed up. The real challenge is to force the Raptors into making bad passes and getting out into the open court where the Thunder can really attack the rim. If they can lock in defensively, the rest should take care of itself. Thunder 101, Raptors 92.