Raptors Should Provide Strong Test For Thunder
By Randy Renner
The Toronto Raptors roll into Chesapeake Energy Arena at 4-0 for the first time in franchise history and it's no fluke.
The Raps have beaten Indiana and Milwaukee at home and Boston and Dallas on the road and they've mostly won with outstanding defense.
Toronto has the NBA's fourth best shooting defense, allowing opponents to hit just 38.7 percent of their shots and they're allowing just 95 points a game which is 6th best.
The Raptors started this four-game trip with Tuesday's 102-91 victory over the Mavericks, holding them to 38.4 percent shooting including a four-minute stretch in the fourth quarter in which the home team couldn't score even one bucket.
The visitors tonight will look quite a bit different than in the past. They have new uniforms and several different players wearing them. Point guard Kyle Lowry is still around though and he likes what he's seen so far from his team.
"I think it was the start that we needed," said Lowry, who scored a team-high 27 points against Dallas while handing out 10 assists. "Either we could have a real good start, or a tough start with pretty much 10 new guys. But I think we've done a good job of just staying focused with our principles."
The Thunder (3-1) come in with one of the NBA's best offenses, hitting 48.4 percent of their shots (2nd) and scoring 118.3 points (2nd) per game. They've also scored at least 100 points in each of their first four games, the first time that's happened in the Oklahoma City era of the franchise.
The superstar duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have been leading the scoring onslaught. Westbrook is 2nd on the NBA averaging 30.3 points and Durant is right behind at 29.8 and showing no signs of problems with his surgically repaired right foot.
While the Thunder have been tough to stop, they have also stopped themselves by averaging a whopping 19.4 turnovers per 100 possessions to match Philadelphia for the league's worst mark and 21.0 turnovers per game which is also the worst in the NBA. They had a season-high 25 giveaways in their first loss, 110-105 at Houston on Monday.
"I thought our turnovers were just too much and we've really got to try to make some strides and get better in that area," head coach Billy Donovan said after the game.
The biggest culprit has been Westbrook, averaging a career-high 5.5 turnovers (most in the NBA) after he averaged 4.4 a season ago. To be fair Westbrook is also having his best season handing out assists, averaging a career high 9.3 per game. Last season's turnovers were mostly a result of Russ shouldering the load with KD out for most of the season, now it's more of a concern with the superstar duo reunited.
"I just think we need to get better and we keep needing to improve," Donovan said. "I think we really need to focus and really get better in terms of playing to our identity."
In addition to scoring a bunch of points the Thunder have also been able to gather in an extraordinary amount of rebounds, averaging 53.0 per game and leading the NBA in rebounding margin averaging pulling down 14.5 more rebounds a game than their opponent.
The Thunder don't miss many chances to grab missed shots, gathering in 57.9 percent of all rebound opportunities which also leads the NBA.
You can see tonight's game on Fox Sports Oklahoma, tipoff is set for 7:10. We'll have full coverage, including postgame videos here on InsideThunder.com
- Westbrook is the first player since Nate Archibald in 1972 to register at least 120 points and 35 assists through the first four games of an NBA season.
- Former Thunder assistant coach Rex Kalamian will be back at The Peake tonight. Kalamian served as Scott Brooks lead assistant for most of his years in OKC. Kalamian joined Dwane Casey's staff in July.
- The Thunder are in the middle of their only four games in five nights stretch of the season and begin their second set of back-to-backs tonight. They'll be in Chicago tomorrow night.