The Oklahoma City Thunder are an elite NBA team – everyone knows that.
But they are just 1-2; and they look beatable.
The worst thing that can happen to this Thunder season is something that’s reared its head in every single game thus far. That’s egos creeping in and causing players to believe they’re better than. Tonight, much like the first two nights of the 2012-13 season, there was a ton of barking among Thunder players. At the end of the first quarter, Thabo Sefolosha and Russell Westbrook had to be separated from exchanging words as they walked to the bench. It was a show of anger that surprisingly was also seen from the same two as they walked off the court at halftime Friday night. Later, Durant chewed out Serge Ibaka for failing to grab a rebound. And of course there was the usual head-shaking between Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins whenever the paint went left unprotected. The problem is everyone has an opinion and everyone is sharing it. It can’t be that way. There should be two voices on the court. Durant’s. And Westbrook’s. Everyone else needs to fall in line. What’s happening now is that everyone is acting like they know best, almost like they’re the reason for the team’s success, like their poop doesn’t stink and the man’s next to them does. And you can’t help but wonder how much of the attitude has to do with last year’s success and whether it will soon subside or only fester and grow fangs.
So, for conspicuous reasons – as good as the Thunder are – this may be the perfect time to face them.
But let’s be clear – although the Thunder are beatable – the Raptors will need to have a near impeccable game to pull out a W tonight.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan need to at the very least match their performance against Minnesota.
They also need help from Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas – particularly the former. Bargs has been in stagnation all season; and we need him to wake up.
Tonight would be a good time for him to break out of his lackadaisical self.
2nd unit production needs to be really efficient – Starting with Jose Calderon who needs to provide a big spark off the bench. The Thunder’s bench is not dead meat even without James Harden.
Kevin Martin has been sensational this season so far, and is putting up big numbers off the bench.
He’s also been deadly from behind the arc.
The Raptors also need to start hot – and stay hot. Starting off on the right foot hasn’t been a big problem for the Raptors so far. They’re currently one of the best offensive teams in the league in the first quarter (28.3 points).
But they’re far too notorious for losing focus in the fourth quarter.
A mental slip can’t be afforded tonight.
- Lowry vs. Westbrook – I’m not Westbricks’ biggest fan; so forgive me. I hope Lowry shuts him down and proves how good he really is. He will need to attack Westbrook and get in his head and try to throw him off his game. Westbrook doesn’t deal with mental battles well.
- Durant vs. whoever – KD is going to get his points no matter who tries to defend him; but the Raptors have to try to force Durant to resort to tough shots from outside. I expect Dominic McGuire to get some minutes tonight against KD; as he’s one of our better wing defenders.
- Perk vs. Val – another tough match-up for our rook. He’s had to face guys who are much thicker than him all season. Perkins is a tough nut; and I hope Val doesn’t back down from him one bit. I’d rather see Valanciunas get in foul trouble and be benched than to see him get pushed around by Perk. Also, attack both him and Ibaka – try to get them into foul trouble. OKC is not that deep in their big-men rotation.
- The game is on TNT fan night.
- Kleiza will sit this one out again.
- Last season the Thunder didn’t lose their third game until 15 games into the season.
Tip-off is at 8pm Eastern.