The 25th ranked Raptors will hope to advance in the NBA tournament when they travel to Oklahoma City to meet the 7 seed Thunder.
Fancy an upset?
If only it was that easy.
The Raptors surprised many by winning and edging further from a top 3 pick on Friday night when they defeated the Washington Wizards. Today they will begin a tough West Coast road trip that sees them play 5 games in the span of 7 days and will look to start that on a good note against a new-look Thunder team.
Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan combined for an efficient 63 points to lead the way last time out and they will be looking to do the same against an elite defensive team. The Thunder represent everything that Raptors fans would love for their team to be; a group of dedicated, humble, and talented players that have great chemistry on and off the court. They are a team that was built primarily through the draft and through smart under the radar trades and they recently acquired Kendrick Perkins to anchor their defence.
The biggest knock on the Thunder was that they wouldn't be able to guard the best big men in the league and that this would come back to bite them in the Western Conference Playoffs against guys like Gasol, Duncan and Nowitzki. This was a credible claim seeing as how they were starting Jeff Green and Nenad Kristic at the 4 and 5. With Kendrick Perkins and the ever-improving Serge Ibaka down low they now have two elite defensive players in the paint that will be a nightmare for opposing bigs to score on.
This game represents the perfect opportunity for us to get closer in the race for a top draft pick. It also represents a chance for this young team to get a character-building win in an intimidating environment against a title contender. I'm conflicted so without further ado here are the 3 things we need to do to achieve the latter
1. Manage the Game. The Thunder are the league's best free throw shooting team with a mark of 82.% in their 68 games and counting. In order to win such a tough matchup the Raptors will have to play intelligently and avoid making useless fouls. When they do foul the Dino's need to make sure that the opposing player isn't going to hit his shot for the "and-one." Making every possession count on both sides of the ball will be crucial to pulling off the upset.
2. Strength in Depth. I'm trying to avoid sounding like a broken record here but every time I write a preview I end up bringing up this team's bench. Leandro Barbosa, Reggie Evans, Sonny Weems and Jerryd Bayless have the potential to be game changers whenever they enter a game and it is no coincidence that most of our wins have coincided with big nights from a bench player. The Thunder play at a high tempo and have players capable of wearing you down. Bench play will be crucial to this team if they wish to escape Seattle (pun intended) with a win.
3. Defend the Perimeter. In Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant the Thunder have one of the most dynamic point guard/swingman combo's in the association. Westbrook is an athletic freak that can get to the rim at will and KD is the definition of a franchise player. Defending the perimeter will be crucial and it would help if the Dinos could force them to take jump shots instead of attacking the basket. It would also be futile for the team to ignore James Harden. Since the Jeff Green trade he has been playing like a man possessed (definitely picked him up in my fantasy league) and is enjoying a bigger role on the team by playing very well.