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Toronto Raptors vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 27 of 82)

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  • When: Sunday, 22 December 2013 at 6:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

There was once a time when Oklahoma City Thunder fans really cared about the Toronto Raptors’ record. Not only would we scour the box scores for our games, but we’d also look at the Raptors’ games. Reason being, of course, because we owned the Raptors’ pick in the 2013 draft as part of the James Harden trade. The restriction was that the pick had to be between selections 4-14. Luckily the Raptors missed the playoffs and with that pick, the Thunder selected Steven Adams. Fast forward to this season, and we could really care less about Toronto’s record. The Thunder have beat the Raptors 3 straight times spanning the last two seasons.

The Opponent

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The Raptors are team that you could term, “in flux”. The hired Masai Ujiri as general manager to take this middle of the road franchise, blow it up, and quickly rebuild it, like he did with the Denver Nuggets. His latest big move was to trade Rudy Gay and his $17.9 million dollar price tag (and possibly $19.3 million dollar next season if he opts in) to the Sacramento Kings for bit parts, most of whom are expiring after this season. That clearing of cap space will come in handy next season and beyond. But in the now, the Raptors are a bad team. Their back court is led by PG Kyle Lowry and wings Terrence Ross and Demar Derozan. All three players are talented, but are inefficient and need a high volume of shots to get to their averages. The front court is one of more promising ones this side of Detroit in the Eastern Conference. Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson are threats for a double double every time they step on the court. The bench play is a lot like the team itself, which is to say, not very good.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Toronto Raptors

  • PG – Kyle Lowry
  • SG – Terrence Ross
  • SF – DeMar DeRozan
  • PF – Amir Johnson
  • C – Jonas Valanciunas

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

1. Rebounding – Toronto is a terribly inefficient team from the perimeter. Their wing players who average at least 10 minutes per game combine to shoot 39.9% from the field. Lots of misses means lots of rebounds. Valanciunas and Johnson are adept at grabbing rebounds, especially offensive rebounds (grabbing 5.3 offensive rebounds per game between them).

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2. Bench play – Toronto’s bench is veteran laden, but really lacking when it comes to anything offensive. This may be a time to take over the game as the Thunder’s bench has been humming lately.

3. Complacency/Trap Game – This game has all the makings of a trap game. Playing at home, against an inferior opponent, having just played the rival Spurs, and not playing again until the prime time tilt against the Knicks on Christmas. All a bad team needs is hope. It’s Christmas season, but let’s not be in a giving mood tonight.

5 for 5: The Rivalries

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5 for 5: The Longest Shortest Season  |  5 for 5: Tragedies, Courtrooms, and Beginnings  |  5 for 5: The Run  |  5 for 5: The Thunder’s Godfather

This past season, the Oklahoma City Thunder completed their 5th season in the state of Oklahoma. In a world dominated by round numbers, getting to the midway point is always a cause for celebration. In any relationship, you look back at key moments that made it possible to arrive at certain anniversary marks. In the next few weeks heading into training camp, I’ll be looking at 5 defining moments that made it possible for the Thunder to not only roar into the Plains, but also to do it in winning fashion.

For the third part in this series, I wanted to focus on the rivalries. Sports are only as good as the competition they incite. Playing driveway basketball against your kids when they are 5 years of age can quickly get boring (although palming misdirected shots in midair like you’re Serge Ibaka can be entertaining for at least an hour or so). But, try playing your kids when they are 18 years old and have had 12 years of playing experience. Then it becomes an entirely different ballgame.

When it comes to competition, I’ve always looked at the career of Floyd Mayweather Jr. with a sliver of disappointment. That he’s a great boxer with arguably the best defense in the history of boxing is without question. The issue that I’ve had with his career has been the level of competition of his opponents. Now, I’m not saying that falls squarely on Mayweather. The guys in his weight classes have not been particularly consistent in the past decade. He’s also “luckily” scheduled the right fights at the right times, choosing to fight boxers that were either on the downward slide of their career (Oscar De La Hoya and Shane Mosley) or fighters that were too inexperienced to compete with him at the time of their fight (Canelo Alvarez and Victor Ortiz). He’s never had that one opponent that defined him. Mike Tyson had Evander Holyfield. Arturo Gatti had Mickey Ward. Mayweather has…… (and therein lies the problem with his career).

mayweather alvarez boxing

If fans are the life blood of sports, then rivalries are the engines that keep them running.  You naturally root against your opponent because they are competing against you and you want to win. Pretty simple concept. But if you add something more to that competitive fire, it can act like an accelerant, creating an even bigger blaze. Rivalries, and the differing reasons for them, can be that spark. When it comes to the Thunder, I’ve categorized their rivals under 4 different categories.

1. Regional Foes

Geography and competition are probably the easiest ways to breed a rivalry. Whether it’s an intracity game between two high schools or a game between professional sports teams 200 miles apart, that desire to be superior to those closest to you is an innate characteristic of the human psyche. Even if the two teams aren’t on equal footing at the time of the game, the rivalry aspect of the game often lends it to be a close affair. Continue reading 5 for 5: The Rivalries