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Raptors vs. Thunder: The Battle for Almost Great

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It's a Monday night contest between two teams working in the shade of two other historically great teams. Let's watch.

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma City Thunder are a very good team. They have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, two of perhaps the finest five basketball players in the world. They are currently 51-22 and should cruise through at least one round of the playoffs. (I don't give any of Memphis, Portland or Utah much of a chance.) But they are merely very good.

The Toronto Raptors are a very good team. They have Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, two of perhaps the finest 10-15 basketball players in the world. They are currently 49-23 and should if not cruise than at least win one round of the playoffs. (I don't give any of Indiana, Detroit or even, yes, the disheartened Bulls much of a chance.) But they are merely very good.

So are the Raptors in the same conversation as the Thunder, quality-wise?

"Not yet, I don't yet, no," said Casey pre-game. "We haven't been to the Conference Finals, this franchise hasn't been to the NBA Finals. They have, that group has." For the season, this has been an accurate assessment. Both teams are very good but the Raptors haven't quite been through that extreme ordeal of the later playoff rounds. On that end, Casey wouldn't call this game a litmus test, but he did confirm it was a "helluva test." Top five tends to win out over top 10-15. The Raptors haven't even won 50 games as a franchise.

Of course, the real joke here is that both very good teams stand in the shadow of true greatness. The Warriors and Spurs laugh at all of this. Still, if you want to get in that conversation, you've got to win the games.

Now, Read up on the preview of today's game over here by John Gaudes.

Or you can weigh-in on the question of shutting down DeMarre Carroll.

The comments await.