The Toronto Raptors will complete the next leg of their road trip by facing the Oklahoma City Thunder. So far, they are 1-2 on their road trip, with an encouraging win over the Bulls, and more recently, a rather tough loss to the Houston Rockets. They’ll have to put that one behind them as they visit two more members of Team Canada’s FIBA Bronze Medal roster from this past summer in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort.
The Thunder have had a remarkable season, outpacing expectations from last year when they finished 10th, ultimately missing the playoffs. Now, with the addition of Chet Holmgren and the development of their core, they have sky-rocketed to the lead of the West, with the second best net rating in the league.
While the balance certainly isn’t in the Raptors’ favour on paper, there are a few things that the Raptors can do to flip the odds. For one, with the return of Jakob Poeltl from his ankle injury, there is a distinct paint advantage. Chet is a formidable rim protector (2.6 blocks per game), but he’s extremely lean, and in some matchups throughout the season, he has struggled against bigger centers. Poeltl has a distinct size advantage, and should play a bit of bully ball to see if he can capitalize.
Another thing that a lot of other teams have taken advantage of is defensive matchups with Josh Giddey. There’s an ongoing debate about his ability to defend soundly, which teams have taken advantage of, favoring whoever he is guarding and trying to route the ball through them. More importantly though, his offence has struggled, posting 11.4 ppg and shooting only 32% from 3-point range. A lot of teams have slacked off him defensively, anticipating his preference to facilitate and ultimately being able to have a stronger help defence, not needing to step out to guard him as a shooter. If the Raptors employ this strategy as well, their defence against Shai and Chet and the other scorers in the game can be the focus, hopefully shutting them down.
The Raptors will also have to have strong performances from their new core. Scottie and Immanuel are continuing to play well together, each posting great numbers in their game against the Rockets. Help from the bench will also be imperative, from guys like Schroder, Gradey, and Nwora, all creating space when their shots fall, which unfortunately didn’t really happen in their last game. With Chet in the paint, the Raptors will have to prioritize shots from distance or moving the ball to prevent being stuffed at the rim.
Hopefully Toronto can pull out the win in this one, tying up their record on the road trip, but regardless of the outcome of this game, Raptors fans should enjoy the opportunity to watch home-grown talents in Lu and Shai again.
How to Watch:
Sportsnet, at 7:00 pm ET
Toronto: Scottie Barnes, Gary Trent Jr., Jakob Poeltl, Bruce Brown, Immanuel Quickley
Oklahoma City: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chet Holmgren, Lu Dort, Josh Giddey, Cason Wallace
Toronto: RJ Barrett (Questionable; Left Knee Swelling), Jontay Porter (Out; Back Spasms), Javon Freeman-Liberty (Out; G League - Two-Way), Kira Lewis Jr. (Out G League - On Assignment), Markquis Nowell (Out G League - Two-Way)
Oklahoma City: Isaiah Joe (Out; Sternum Contusion), Tre Mann (Questionable; Personal Reasons); Jalen Williams (Out; Right Ankle Sprain)