Peace on Earth, good will towards man, and forget the losses of yesterday — especially if they come against the worst team in an entire conference. Actually, with the Raptors’ help last night, the Mavericks are now just a half-game from being the third worst team in the league, so, uh, kudos to them. We here in Toronto are freezing, and we are not happy.
Another team that, until recently, also wasn’t particularly happy was (were?) the Oklahoma City Thunder. Despite putting Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony on the same team, they’d mostly been humming along at or below .500. When you put that much talent on a team, you expect results fast; and when you don’t get them, the grumbling starts.
But lo and behold, the Thunder have now won five straight, and look to be coming together as the team we all thought they would be. They beat the Rockets on Christmas Day. It’s been quite a scene in OKC.
The Raptors, meanwhile, are still smarting over a loss that should not have been a loss. It’ll be just over 24 hours when the ball goes up again for Toronto, here’s hoping that’s enough time to forget about it and move on.
Here are the details for tonight’s game.
Where to Watch
Sportsnet One, 8pm
Toronto - Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
Oklahoma City - Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Steven Adams
Toronto - Lucas Nogueira (Perhaps? He’s listed as day-to-day)
Oklahoma City - None! The nerve!
Forget About It and Get Back
The most important thing here, to be honest, is just forgetting last night in Dallas. Playing in back-to-back games is tough enough, playing in back-to-back games immediately after the Christmas holiday adds to that difficulty, playing in back-to-back games after losing the first one to a terrible team is... oof. Let’s try to stay focused here.
The Raptors have done this before and managed to persevere. It wasn’t so long ago they were down 22 points to Philly on the second night of a back-to-back before storming back and winning. That’s the ideal situation (or, I mean, they could win without falling into a massive hole first). The nightmare scenario here, after a disheartening loss, is to collapse a second time down the stretch, a la that dang game against the Clippers. Keep both these games in mind.
Unfortunately, unlike both the Clips and the Sixers, this Thunder team feels like it’s starting to gel. And they have some world class talent that will not make things easy either way. The Raptors won’t just be able to show up and win — which is something to always, always have in the back of your mind.
Containing PG and Russ
During this five-game win streak for OKC, their Big 3 have been — surprise! — quite good. While I don’t meant to discount the 16.4 points and 5.0 rebounds per game from Melo, it feels like, as always, the difference makers are Westbrook and George. The co-leads for this new-age Thunder team are averaging 30 and 18.6 points respectively, with Russ also adding 8.4 rebounds and 9.8 assists per game. I’d also like to add that somehow Russ has been shooting 57.5 percent during this stretch, which seems impossible.
But Raptors fans, naturally, fear George the most. Despite all the time that’s past since that fateful first round series against Indiana, Toronto knows what PG can do when given space to work. While we know Ibaka and JV will match up against Melo and Adams, it’ll fall on rookie OG Anunoby — and perhaps Pascal Siakam? — to slow George down. Meanwhile, Lowry, Delon Wright, and maybe Norman Powell, will have their hands full with Westbrook. The Raptors are currently ranked sixth in defensive rating this season (the Thunder are fourth, by the way), so it’s not beyond them to slow OKC down. We’ll just have to see if Toronto has any juice left.
The Raptors still have the fourth-ranked offense in the NBA, but when DeMar DeRozan lays an egg (like he did last night) the team struggles. DeRozan was unable to get anything going in Dallas, in an apparent post-Christmas haze, shooting 3-of-16 from the field for a mere eight points. Would it surprise you to learn that Toronto was unable to crack the 100-point barrier for the first time since the team’s last loss? No... no it would not.
Fortunately for DeRozan, that game was yesterday, and today is... today. Unfortunately for DeRozan, he’ll have to deal with the extreme defensive efforts of Andre Roberson, who is basically still in the NBA because of his particular set of skills, and George, who can be a wrecker when he wants to be. I’m positive this is not the kind of holiday season DeRozan wanted for himself, but such is life.
That said, DeRozan did just win the East’s Player of the Week award, averaging 34.0 points, 3.3 assists, and 4.5 rebounds during this run by the Raptors. He put up a career-high 45 points against the Sixers, and has been shooting the lights out (65 percent!) from deep as of late. If anyone can bounce back from a stinker, it’s DeRozan.