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Raptors look to sweep home-and-home vs. the Thunder: Preview, start time, and more

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After a thrilling win in OKC, the Raptors come home to Toronto to finish their home-and-home series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Despite Kyle Lowry being sidelined with an ankle injury, the Raptors still managed to come away with a hard-fought 123-114 overtime victory. Led by Pascal Siakam’s 33 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists and Kawhi Leonard’s 22 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists, they were able to stave off the Thunder, especially in OT where they played brilliantly down the stretch. Fred VanVleet also looked great, recording 23 points and six assists.

Now it’s Friday and the Thunder are set to visit the Raptors to finish off their home-and-home series against Toronto. Unfortunately for the Raps, they’ll have to do it all again without Lowry. He’s due to miss tonight’s game nursing that sprained ankle.

Look for fewer scoring droughts from the Thunder tonight as the stakes are getting increasingly high for them to finish the season strong. In fact, OKC has now lost four games in a row and are in a four-way tie for the fifth seed in the West. Expect them to come out of the gates wanting to win this more than the Raptors — who are already a lock for the playoffs and most likely the second seed in the East.

After tonight’s game, Toronto will finish the regular season with a relatively easy schedule. In their remaining nine games, they play the Hornets (twice), Bulls (twice), Knicks, Heat, Magic, Nets, and Timberwolves. Their opponents’ record is a combined 258-351 (.424), so look for the Raps to further solidify their game and to use it as opportunity to rest players to prepare for the post-season.

Although it’s not a back-to-back, Raptor fans should also prepare to see Leonard sit this one out. He’s not on the injury report as of yet, but going up against Paul George and Russell Westbrook once is no easy task — let alone doing it twice in 48 hours.

Let’s get to game details followed by the keys to the game below.

Where to Watch:

Sportsnet One at 7:30 p.m.

Lineups:

Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol

Oklahoma City — Russell Westbrook, Terrance Ferguson, Paul George, Jerami Grant, Steven Adams

Injuries:

Toronto — Kyle Lowry (OUT — sore right ankle)

Oklahoma City - Andre Roberson (OUT — left patellar tendon)

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Look to Stop the One-Two Punch (Again)

It’s been almost 48 hours since they last met, so the memories are still fresh from what Westbrook was able to do against Toronto. With Lowry out again, the Raptors are going to need to put more of an emphasis on trying to contain Russ as he can take over a game by himself. On Wednesday night, the former MVP went for 42 points on an efficient 16-for-29 shooting from the field and added 11 rebounds and six assists.

It’s going to take some double teams and traps to slow him down, so expect Fred VanVleet, Danny Green, OG Anunoby, Jeremy Lin, Norman Powell, and (possibly) Leonard to be a part of those defensive schemes to slow down Westbrook.

For the Thunder, the counter is in their new MVP candidate, Paul George. While he did have an uncharacteristically quiet night on Wednesday thanks to Kawhi’s efforts to make him work on both ends of the floor, the Raptors know how dangerous PG13 can be. Part of his quiet performance had to do with foul trouble as George fouled out in the fourth, prematurely ending his night with 19 points, six assists, five rebounds. Look for Westbrook and George to have themselves a night with Lowry out — and possibly Leonard too.

Play Your Game for 48 Minutes

One of the reasons the Thunder were able to get back in Wednesday’s game was because the Raptors got away from their game plan. Up 19 in the third, it seemed like the Raptors thought they could coast through to the end. After moving the ball well for three quarters and keeping OKC’s defense off-balance, the ball started getting stuck in the fourth, Toronto’s offense became stagnant, and the Thunder made their run.

With the Raptors offense getting predictable — iso-plays and confusion, mostly — the Thunder were able to jump out on defense, generate turnovers, and crank up the pace and intensity for their comeback. In their efforts, the Raptors did dish out 30 assists, with Leonard, Siakam and VanVleet all recording six assists. It was a good sign for Toronto that they managed to pull out the win, but can they match or exceed that assist number? Let’s see.

Clean the Glass

The Raptors out-rebounded the Thunder 52-48 in Wednesday’s game, but the main issue came on the offensive glass. Toronto will need to do a better job boxing out the Thunder bigs and Westbrook as they were able to get all the offensive rebounds they wanted. OKC pulled down 16 offensive boards, leading to 18 second-chance points. That was one of the main factors they used to get back in the game.

Against a team like the Thunder, it’s got to be everyone’s job on Toronto to box out — even the guards. Westbrook can climb up there and snatch all the rebounds he wants when he’s keyed up enough to try. Expect the Raptors to be tighter on the glass for tonight, especially when checking Steven Adams and Jerami Grant who combined for 13 of the team’s 16 offensive rebounds on Wednesday.