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Raptors stumble into OKC to take on the Thunder: Preview, start time, and more

After an impressive victory against the Nuggets a week ago, Toronto has dropped three straight games. Can they get back to winning ways against a young Thunder team?

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The month from hell continues. What began this season as #WeTheSouth quickly changed to #FadeForCade. It’s not surprising to see Toronto struggle — it was somewhat expected that this would be the season they did — it’s just how much they’re struggling that’s surprising. Toronto sits 11th in the conference, 11 games under .500. Basketball analysts this season had them ranked anywhere from fourth to eighth. Very few thought they would be outside of the playoff picture this late into the season. Toronto is just 1-12 in March.

After Toronto’s 104-118 loss on Monday Night to the Pistons (that completed a season sweep for Detroit), Nick Nurse spoke to the media about the condition of the team.

“It’s really hard right now to sit here and be upset. I think the guys are attentive and they’re trying. They just can’t quite move like they’d like to right now. I can’t put my finger on it other than it’s a little harder to come back from all this stuff than we realize and we’re just in the middle of it, kind of as experimental guys”.

Nurse continued, “I don’t know. I’m hoping we can get some rest and some juice back in our legs and get ready for the next one and play a lot more physical, a lot tougher mentally and physically.”

For Oklahoma City, this season was expected. After accumulating an astounding 18 first round picks and 16 second round picks through 2027, the Thunder are in excellent position to rebuild into a playoff team. It was decided by the Thunder to shut down the remainder of Al Horford’s season in an effort to improve their draft odds. Tonight, they are without Canadians Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort, as well as Darius Bazley, all out with injury.

If there was a game Toronto should win, it would be against this young Thunder team. But knowing how terrible this month has been for the Raptors, it could be another tough outing. Here are the details for tonight’s game.

Where to Watch:

TSN, 8:00 PM EST

Lineups:

Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam

Oklahoma City – Théo Maledon, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Aleksej Pokuševski, Isaiah Roby, Moses Brown

Injuries:

Toronto – DeAndre Bembry (health and safety protocols – OUT), Paul Watson (health and safety protocols – OUT), Patrick McCaw (knee – OUT), Jalen Harris (hip – OUT)

Oklahoma City – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (foot – OUT), Luguentz Dort (concussion – OUT), Darius Bazley (shoulder – OUT), Mike Muscala (ankle – OUT)

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Bench Mob No More

Toronto’s bench scored just 24 points against Detroit on Monday night. Chris Boucher, who had been such a strong bench presence all season, has been inconsistent of late. Paul Watson and DeAndre Bembry, both players who have shown flashes of production in the second unit, have been missing due to health and safety protocols. It’s concerning that Rodney Hood, a player that had only been with the team for three games, has been producing more than the rest of the bench.

It’s been noted that coach Nurse has opted for two-starter units with the bench this season, while historically having one starter or none in previous bench units. Toronto’s bench play has been miserable enough that even having four starters and one reserve on the court has sometimes been unplayable. Nurse had Stanley Johnson closing against Portland and CJ McCollum hunted him for seven straight points down the stretch. Toronto’s bench needs to find their rhythm soon and tonight is a good opportunity.

A Hidden Gem?

Oklahoma City’s Moses Brown has made quite an impact for the Thunder since entering the rotation. In the nine games since, he’s averaging 11.8 points and 12 rebounds to go with 1.6 blocks. This includes two monster performances where he posted 21 points and 23 rebounds against the Celtics as well as a 20-point, 16-rebound, 5-block game against the Bulls.

Much like after Luguentz Dort’s breakthrough, Moses Brown was reward with a 4-year contract extension. If he develops like the Thunder hopes he could, he should be a nice complementary piece to a Gilgeous-Alexander/Dort/Bazley core. Brown, who was once known from a viral video highlighting former UCLA guard Jalen Hands’ leadership, has now entered NBA circles as another strong OKC prospect.

OG is Here

Is there anyone OG Anunoby can’t guard? Since going through the league’s health and safety protocols, Anunoby has been aggressive and active on both sides of the ball. In this recent stretch, he’s defended big men like Nikola Jokic and Deandre Ayton while switching with guards like Donovan Mitchell and Devin Booker. When he’s absent from the lineup, Toronto’s defense falls off a cliff. On top of that, Anunoby is taking another mid-season leap on offense too.

In December, I wrote a player preview on OG Anunoby, in which I discuss a little about his dribble-drive game. While he still has some work to do (especially with turning the ball over and keeping his balance), Anunoby is now been given an opportunity to show that side of his game. His perimeter stroke is as strong as ever, shooting a career high 40.6 percent from three, meaning teams will look to run him off the line. Being a part of a negative bench group, Anunoby will have to act as a primary option to generate offense for the second unit when Siakam and VanVleet sit. Let’s see if he’s up to the challenge.