The Toronto Raptors have a tough task ahead of them tonight.
They're a banged up group, and they're facing the Oklahoma City Thunder, winners of seven of their last 10 games, and 11 and 2 on the road against the East.
The Raptors have won six of their last seven vs the West, but the teams they've played haven't exactly been of the same ilk as OKC.
The good news is, from shoot-around this morning, it sounds like Jonas Valanciunas will be back in action. He's still listed as a game-time decision, but if he goes that will be a much-needed shot in the arm for a Raptors team that struggled to beat an Anthony Davis-less New Orleans Pelicans club on Wednesday night.
Here are our keys to the game:
1) 48 Minutes. While the Raptors have certainly had success this season, a big part of it of late is using dominant fourth quarter and late game performances to get wins. The club continues to lead the lead in fourth quarter scoring margin (ahead of Miami and San Antonio) but one could argue that they've been too reliant on it at times. Rough first quarter outings might work against New Orleans, but against the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight, the club needs to ensure they give it the full 48 minute treatment.
2) Get on the Glass. There aren't many flaws in this OKC club when you look at the numbers. They're a top seven team in terms of offensive efficiency, a top five team in terms of defensive efficiency, play at a pretty steady, but not overly fast pace, shoot good percentages from the field...
...and are the league's best rebounding club in terms of rebound rate.
Toronto too is a solid rebounding club but with Valanciunas a question mark and Amir Johnson not 100% (and no Patrick Patterson of course), they've got their work cut out for them. Nothing will kill Toronto early like great defensive displays, but a lack of closing out via rebounds, resulting in easy, second-chance buckets for the Thunder.
3) Kevin Durant. Obviously. Durant is one of those "you can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him," players, so it's hard to simply throw him down as tonight's third "key." Especially since the Thunder have so many other weapons besides Tha Slim Reaper.
But the Raptors have had success controlling KD, holding him to 5 of 16 shooting the last time the clubs met. Look for Dwane Casey tonight to attempt to deploy the same defensive strategies to hopefully make someone else on the Thunder besides Durant, beat them.