Well, the NBA looks a little different today than it did the last time the Toronto Raptors played, doesn’t it? It’s Trade Deadline week, which means the news and rumours are flying fast and furious — and so far, so are the deals! The Portland Trail Blazers have gutted their roster, the New Orleans Pelicans are trying to build a winning roster around Zion Williamson, the Indiana Pacers finally moved one of their centres and the Sacramento Kings bewilderingly gave up on Tyrese Haliburton.
As of this writing, though, the Raptors and their opponent tonight, the Oklahoma City Thunder, remain the same. That is to say, the Raptors are surging — winners of six straight — and the perpetually rebuilding Thunder remain a punchline.
The last time these teams played, the Raptors found themselves outhustled and outworked. I suspect things might be different tonight.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 8:00PM ET
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby
Oklahoma City — Darius Bazley, Luguentz Dort, Mamadi Diakite, Tre Mann, Josh Giddey
Toronto — Goran Dragic (personal – out)
Oklahoma City — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander ( ankle – out), Vít Krejčí (ankle – out) Isaiah Roby (ankle – out), Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (foot – out), Aaron Wiggins (ankle – out)
Go west, young man
The Raptors are 8-9 against the Western Conference on the season, and have a golden opportunity to change that starting this week. starting tonight, their next five games are all against western foes, with four of them on the road. Normally that’d be an intimidating stretch, but only two of the opponents — the Denver Nuggets and the Minnesota Timberwolves — are currently over .500. The Raptors going 3-2, 4-1 or even 5-0 all seem possible!
We’d be remiss if we didn’t point out the All-Star break looming at the end of this stretch, though. The Raptors are overworked and tired and that break is gonna be looking mighty tempting. There’s also the chaos of the trade deadline! Winning four or five of these games will require the team to stay locked in.
Moving on up
Since the calendar turned over to 2022, the Raptors are a top-10 team in both offensive and defensive rating, with a solid net rating of +4.5. At 20 games, that’s a small-ish sample size... but not TOO small. And given the injury to Pascal Siakam that delayed his season debut, and the December COVID outbreak, you can very easily make the argument that those stats, and the 14-6 record, are more representative of the who the Raptors are than what came before.
On the other hand, with the team’s short rotation and reliance on, essentially, six players, their margin for error still seems really thin. I don’t know if a deal for any depth pieces will be available tomorrow or not, but I would certainly feel more comfortable about the Raptors continuing to improve if they had another player or two to buy Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet even just 2-3 more minutes of rest per night.
Speaking of offensive and defensive rating, the Thunder are dead last in the NBA on the offensive side, but a surprising 10th overall in defensive rating! Give head coach Mark Daigneault credit for getting this team of youngsters and castoffs to play hard on that end.
Josh Giddey has been named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month in each of the first three months of the season (October-November were combined into one), an impressive feat for any rookie. The Australian is filling up the stat sheet every night, averaging 12 points, six assist and seven boards.
Scottie Barnes, meanwhile, has yet to win Rookie of the Month honours despite averaging 15/8/3, which I suppose tells us that the level of rookie competition in the East is a little higher?
Both rooks played well the last time these teams went head-to-head, with Giddey scoring 13 and shooting 3-for-5 from downtown, and Barnes dropping in 18 points along with 8 boards and five assists. Should be another solid rookie showdown tonight!