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Raptors vs. Thunder: Or Russell versus Them

The Thunder are in Toronto for their one stop a year, and that means the Raptors had better be locked in.

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Since everyone is weighing in on this MVP debate, allow me a few moments here. As most would agree, the four names under real consideration for the award are: LeBron James, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, and Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook is in Toronto tonight to lead his Thunder into battle against the Raptors. I use a violent word like "battle" because, well, have you seen Westbrook play lately? The dude treats each and every basketball game like a war, a war he may not return from, a war he intends to win. Accordingly, Westbrook is averaging an eye-opening 31.8 points (to lead the league), 10.3 assists and 10.6 rebounds. That, as you've no doubt heard by now, is a triple-double, which is categorically an astounding thing to average for an entire season -- it hasn't been done in half a century.

But let's set that all aside. Yes, let's set the most significant statistical season in modern NBA history... aside. Instead, let us ask a different question about Westbrook and his relative value: Have you seen the other dudes this guy has to play with?

The next best players on the Thunder are, in some order: Steven Adams, Enes Kanter and Victor Oladipo. You could make an argument for the newly acquired Taj Gibson, but let's get real. Compare that first trio of names with the list of teammates for LeBron, Leonard and Harden, and only the Beard comes close to having as "weak" a supporting cast. (And really, Houston's roster is built to accommodate its star so even that is an unfair comparison. The players on the Rockets are experts at what it is they do, which is, namely, catch passes from Harden and get rebounds for Harden.)

Westbrook meanwhile presides over an island of misfit toys. He's had to make it work with dudes like Ersan Ilyasova (shipped off for the eventual arrival of the soft-as-hell Doug McDermott who, yes, is terrifying to the Raptors), a rookie Sabonis, whatever Kyle Singler is supposed to be, and the All-D, no-O Andre Roberson. That Russ has this team in sixth in the Beyond Thunderdome Western Conference is a minor miracle.

In conclusion: the Raptors will have their hands full tonight.

Read the preview. Get in the comments. Let's prepare for war.