After a solid effort against the elite of the league, the Raptors now face this year's up and coming team. Oklahoma City is a team that is made up of dynamic young players in addition to the best player beyond the 2003 draft class. Raptors HQ takes a look at what needs to be done to bring down the rising star of the West.
If you're a Raptors fan from the past two years, you'll know that the Oklahoma City
Supersonics Thunder are not a team to be trifled with on their home court.
Experiencing the development of the Thunder first hand the past couple of years, the Raptors should be wary coming into this game. The Thunder have simply taken it to the Raptors and the Raptors have had little response to counter the Thunder's athleticism. And while I wouldn't say that the Dinos are reeling from their last couple of losses, they seem to have lost some of their defensive edge. I'd attribute some of that towards the absence of their MVP Chris Bosh because he has always been one of the most vocal and talkative Raptors on the floor. And with Bosh uncertain to even make the trip out West, the Raptors will need to find some way to find that defensive intensity against some of the tougher teams in the league.
To put it mildly, it has been a less than ideal time to lose your best player.
Nevertheless, the Raptors continue to find ways to remain competitive. Against Cleveland the other day, Hedo Turkoglu's offense seems to have officially hit its stride in Bosh's absence. Now becoming more of a focal point in the offensive scheme, Hedo is more at ease with making offensive plays. They will definitely need more of the same to beat the Thunder, but more importantly, we'll also need to see the following keys:
1) Turnovers and Aggression
Ninth in blocks, seventh in steals. Those are the Thunder stats when compared to the league and for the Raptors, they have to keep attacking that interior with fearlessness to get to the free throw line. It's here where the Raps could have used a healthy dose of Chris Bosh. Nevertheless, the Raptors have gotten some shots at the free throw line thanks to Bargnani, Jack, and Reggie Evans. If Turkoglu can also get in on the action like he's shown at times over the course of the season, the Raptors should make it difficult for the Thunder to keep aggressively challenging shots for the entire game.
And of course, the Raptors absolutely have to take care of the ball.
2) Jose Calderon's Shot
While Jarrett Jack has absolutely flourished the past couple of games, Jose Calderon's offense seems to have sputtered into a bit of a dry spell. It seems at times that he's leaning into his shot, which is causing it to go short or veer to the side. Calderon, though, has to find his shot back. It's been that missing spark that the Raptors have needed the last few games. It is that constant pressure from our point guards which has been a key strength for the Raptors this year and is an essential part of what makes the Raptors so dangerous. Without it, the Raptors have little offensive consistency coming from the bench except from Antoine Wright.
3) Green and Westbrook
With most of Oklahoma City's offense flowing through Jeff Green, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook, the Raptors will need some serious work from Andrea Bargnani, Hedo Turkoglu, and Jarrett Jack. All three have had their issues over the year in defensive matches, and I don't imagine they'll have an easy time of it later today. The Raptors will be facing athletic players and those are exactly the type of players that have caused them trouble before. In this case, the best option is to challenge these players to make a shot and to not be bothered if Kevin Durant goes off for 30 points. It'll be limiting the other two that really determines the outcome of this game.