Since relocating from Seattle, the Thunder are off to a franchise-best start through seven games. The 2016 NBA offseason was a memorable one for a plethora of reasons, but no story was bigger than Kevin Durant’s decision to depart OKC for the already stacked Golden State Warriors. It’s early, and their schedule has been a bit soft, but the Thunder are doing just fine without Durant.
Many people across the NBA (myself included) expected the Thunder to regress in a big way this year, but the moves made by general manager Sam Presti after the Durant saga are paying early dividends.
Since coming over from Orlando Victor Oladipo has fit in well with his new teammates, rookie big man Domantas Sabonis has been a pleasant surprise and the continued growth of Steven Adams has been something to behold. Even without the Slim Reaper in the fold, the Thunder appear to have enough talent to compete in the tough Western Conference.
Here are three things to watch out for in the contest:
Oh God, it’s Russell Westbrook again
Russell Westbrook entered the season as the MVP favourite, and he’s clearly looked the part so far. Westbrook is averaging 30.4 points, 9.9 assists and 8.4 rebounds in a fantastic start to the campaign. He’s shot 43 percent from the field and 37.5 from downtown. Simply put, you can’t stop Russ, you can only contain him which is what the Raptors will need to do if they want to leave OKC with a win.
After going 2-of-10 in the first half against the Miami Heat on Saturday, Westbrook either scored or assisted on every point in a 20-0 third quarter surge that turned a four-point game into a 24-point Thunder blowout midway through the third quarter. Oklahoma City went on to top Miami 97-85. Yikes.
Shoot the J! Shoot it!
As of Thursday, the Raptors were the worst 3-point shooting team in the NBA at 26.1 percent while OKC came in 21st at 31.9. As a result of DeMar DeRozan’s red-hot start, opposing squads are double-teaming him like there’s no tomorrow. DeRozan can find open teammates all he wants, but until the likes of Patrick Patterson and DeMarre Carroll start hitting those shots the Dinos aren’t going to scare anyone from downtown.
Centre of attention
Without Jonas Valanciunas, who sat out of Sunday’s game against the Kings with a left knee contusion, the Raptors got torched by Demarcus Cousins and company. With the raw rookie combination of Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam logging heavy minutes, Sacramento made Toronto pay without its top rebounder in action. JV is currently listed as day-to-day, and importance of the Lithuanian is incredibly obvious to this team in his absence.
Where to watch: 8 p.m. ET, Sportsnet One