Tonight, the Toronto Raptors hope to accomplish the achievement that has long been eluding the club for it’s 21 year history. However, this won’t be an easy win as the Dinos take on a relentless Oklahoma City Thunder team. The Raps have maintained one of the top 5 records in the NBA for most of the season. OKC, on the other hand, has long been considered a top 5 team for the past 6-7 years.
The journey to 50 will not be easy as defensive stopper DeMarre Carroll has been out for a majority of the season, playing in only 23 games. This issue will be magnified tonight as the Raps will have to take on one of the players Carroll was brought in to defend, Kevin Durant. While Toronto will have their work cut out for them in defending Durant, there’s also the triple-double machine known as Russell Westbrook, who won the All-Star game MVP at Toronto in February. The boys from the Six will be tested tonight and although their duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are often known for some spectacular offensive power, the team will need to bring their A-game defensively in order to shut down the Thunder. Let’s take a look at the starting lineup’s and than analyze Cage’s keys to the game.
Raptors Projected Starting Lineup: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Luis Scola, Jonas Valanciunas
Thunder Projected Starting Lineup: Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams
Lockdown Defence (Particularly on KD and Russ)
This is usually the key to most games. However, when you consider that OKC scores 110 points a game on 48% shooting from the field, there’s no better way to stop an offensive juggernaut such as OKC than by creating chaos on the defensive side of the ball. With that being said, KD and Russ are two of the most dangerous players when the ball is in their hands. KD can shoot from anywhere and over anyone. Whether it’s James Johnson, Norman Powell, or even Terrence Ross, the Raptors must stay on top of Durant. Russ, on the other hand, is comparable to a high-speed Mack truck when driving to the basket and as mentioned before, he’s a nightly triple-double threat. Lowry and Cory Joseph will need to stay in front of Russ as much as possible in order to limit his effectiveness. OKC also ranks #5 in turnovers in the league. If the Raps can anticipate those passes correctly and play physical and solid defence, this game will not be as tough of a task.
Crash the Glass
The Thunder rank #1 in the league when it comes to rebounding, Luckily for Toronto, we’ve got some players that aren’t afraid to get physical down low. Regardless, whether it’s a big man or a guard, the Raps must box out and go for every lose ball. Rebounds are one of the main determinants in a game and since Toronto isn’t very strong on the boards, they can’t afford to miss any opportunities on the boards. This game is going to be physical but that’s a test the Raptors will need to pass, especially with the playoffs only 10 games away.
Get to the Line
The Raptors are very good at getting to the line and drawing fouls. In fact, Toronto attempts the second most free throws per game at 27.2, What really helps their case is that they are also second in the league in free throws made at 21.2. This game will test the teams defence more than it will their offence. Which is why, Toronto really needs to establish the pace of the game early and then maintain it for the remainder of regulation.
X-Factor: James Johnson
As it stands, the starting lineups project Norman Powell to match up with Kevin Durant at small forward. However, I believe it’s most likely that James Johnson matches up with KD. While Russell Westbrook is a phenomenal player, KD is a former MVP and at almost 7 feet, he can shoot from just about anywhere. If the team is to reduce the defensive pressure, they must start with OKC’s first option on offence. At 6’9, JJ provides a competent challenge for KD.