Thunder (50-18, 22-11 road) vs. Raptors (38-29, 20-13 home)
Offensive Rating: Thunder – 110.2 (7th), Raptors – 108.2 (10th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 103.3 (5th), Raptors – 104.7 (9th)
Pace: Thunder – 95.6 (9th), Raptors – 91.9 (24th)
The Raptors are a good basketball team. Like really good. They’ve gone from “ha ha, they’re third in the Eastern Conference the East is so bad,” to “hey, they’re a legit team that could make things difficult on the Heat or Pacers. Kyle Lowry may be the best point guard outside of the West while DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas continue to develop.
The Thunder were part of the original Raps turnaround, when they came to OKC in December. At that time, they were 10-14. That was not long after they traded Rudy Gay and began moving into a better place. Since beating OKC, the Raptors are 28-15, going nine games over .500. They’ve slipped a bit late, losing two of three, but this is a team that you take pride in beating, especially in their building.
The Thunder obviously know this, which is why they chose to sit Russell Westbrook against the Cavs. Having a fully functional team is necessary, but not just that, they’re going to have to play well. The Raptors play defense, and have quality attacking athleticism. Should be a good one.
Three Big Things
1. KLOE. Kyle Lowry is a bulldog. He’s basically Patrick Beverley with talent. He gets under you, playing a feisty style. He guards and he attacks. Westbrook is obviously up to the challenge against anyone, and can handle basically any matchup ahead of him, but this one will be fun.
2. Boards. The Raptors get after the offensive glass as good as anyone. Against the Pelicans in their last game, they had 22. Amir Johnson is an athletic forward that attacks the glass. Tyler Hansbrough isn’t athletic, but he plays with ample amounts of energy. And their guards crash as well. The Thunder have to be ready to rebound.
3. Rotating. How does it play out tonight with Westbrook back? Does Lamb get any minutes? How much does Butler play? What’s the closing lineup look like if it’s close?
Tip at 6:00 CT. Go Northern Thunder.