Tonight, the Thunder play host to the Raptors who are starting a 6 game western road trip at a critical point in the season. Having fallen to 10 – 15, this team is suddenly out of the playoff race in the Eastern conference looking up at the Bucks, the Knicks, the 76ers and the Bulls and are sitting in 12th place in the Conference and last in the Atlantic division. To say this was not the start envisioned by this team would be quite an understatement. At this point they are 12.5 games behind the league leading Celtics and 1 game behind the 76ers in the division. The Nets are 2.5 games up in second place in the conference, but they themselves sit in 6th in the conference. The Raptors are not out of the playoff race at this point, but the team needs some good things to happen at this point having lost 8 of their last 10 and are 7 – 15 since starting 3 – 0 this season.
The Thunder bring the worst record in the NBA to the game tonight which is not much consolation for these Raptors. With Kevin Durant averaging 23.2 points, Jeff Green averaging 15.5 and Russell Westbrook averaging 12.8 this team has some dynamic players on the floor. Add in Nick Collison, Chris Wilcox, Desmond Mason and others and this team has a solid core of players who are looking see some of the success they enjoyed before the move. I would not look to this game to be an easy win by any stretch of the imagination as this team has the shooters to eat up our perimeter defense.
Tonight, the Raptors will need to see some sort of return to form of Chris Bosh who has dropped from 26+ points per game and 12+ rebounds per game to 23 and 9.7 over the past 2 weeks. Jermaine O’Neal has had some trouble maintaining a consistent game as well and these two are major reasons why this team has struggled on offense the past 10 games. Defensively, they both need to step it up on the glass as well at both ends. Andrea Bargnani seems to have lost his touch again, but continues to grow defensively which has been a valuable weapon and nice to see. Jason Kapono and Jamario Moon have looked much better and they need to return to the games that got them to the starting lineup. Jason needs to shoot and Jamario, who collected 9 rebounds last game against the Mavericks, needs to continue to attack the rim and turn in a solid game on defense. Jose Calderon will need to keep the team moving and look to the inside and move the ball up the floor better looking for the break when it presents itself taking advantage of Joey Graham and Jamario Moon who both love to run the floor. I like Anthony Parker off the bench as he provides a lot of energy and a good balance to Roko Ukic who seems to be the only player attacking the rim with any consistency lately. Together, they are a solid back up duo.
Should we win tonight? Yes, we should, we have a lot more pieces than the Thunder do at this point, but are struggling to make them work. Will we win tonight? That is only known in the hearts of this team. Jay will have them ready, but it is really a simple matter of will.