After losing a tough game to Cleveland at home, the Toronto Raptors are set to face-off against Oklahoma City. While the Raptors seemed destined to lose this game, the HQ's Sean Tepper thinks differently...
Only two day removed from that gut-wrenching loss to the Kyrie Irving-less Cleveland Cavaliers, the Toronto Raptors are set to face-off against one of the best teams in West.
Scratch that; make that the best team in West.
Although they are currently riding a three game losing streak and are no longer number one seed in the Western Conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder are still (in my humble opinion) the best team in the NBA.
Keep in mind that each of OKC’s losses during their three game skid have been by six points or less and have come at the hands of Memphis, Miami and Indiana, three top tier playoff teams.
With OKC hosting one of the league’s best offenses and a sporting a 23-5 home record, everyone is expecting the Raptors to get crushed.
But not me.
The term "trap game" has been thrown around a lot in the comments section this year, usually in relation to me saying that the Dinos will beat a sub-par opponent. However, for the first time all year, I am going to do something unthinkable. I’m going to call this one a "trap game" in favour of the Raptors.
The fact of the matter is that prior to Friday night’s game, the Raptors had won four of their last five games. Not to mention that they were playing with two D-Leaguers in their starting lineup.
With Jose Calderon expected to return and James Johnson’s status still very much up in the air, here are three things that the Raptors will need to do if they hope to pull-off the upset.
1. Continue to play Shut-Down Defence: I know that this is easier said than done on a team that features both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but if there’s one area where the Raptors have excelled this season it’s on the defensive side of the ball. During their three game losing streak, OKC failed to score 100 points or more and although they are 40-15 on the season, they are 11-10 when they only manage to put up double digits. This bodes well for the Raptors as they have yet to surrender triple digits in April. This won’t be an easy task for Casey and co. as OKC features a number of lethal offensive weapons, but I have faith in the defensive minded coach and can see him leading this young team to one of their biggest wins of the season.
2. Play Fundamental and Mistake-free basketball: The reason that the Raptors lost to Cleveland on Friday night was simple. They turned over the ball too many times (14) and let their opponent take nearly twice as many free throws as they did (40). While they just barely lost to the Cavaliers, a top flight team such as the Thunder will run circles around a team with a tendency of constantly shooting themselves in the foot. To be perfectly honest, the Raptors don’t have the talent, athleticism or speed to compete with a team like OKC. Where they can make for that is by playing fundamentally sound basketball. If the Raps can get to the charity strip and limit their turnovers, they should have a legitimate shot at beating the Thunder.
3. What do they have to lose?: I know that it may be a cliché, but it still rings true; there is nothing more dangerous than a team with nothing to lose. If the Raptors do manage to defy the odds and beat a team that many expect to be playing in the finals on their home court, it will be a testament to just how much this group of young players have grown, not to mention that Dwane Casey will be heralded as the second coming of Gregg Popovich (not really but you get the point). If they lose, then who cares? Before tip-off, OKC was favoured to win this game by 13 points, and ESPN’s accuscore projections gave Toronto a 7 per cent chance at winning this game. Not only are they expected to lose this game, but it will help them in their quest of getting an even better lottery pick come June.