Thunder-Raptors Should Be Fun To Watch

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

Thunder coach Billy Donovan was asked again at shootaround in Toronto today if he had any plans to sit Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, or anyone else for that matter as OKC faces a back-to-back against the Raptors and the Detroit Pistons the next two nights.

He answered that question today the same way he’s answered it the last several days, no plans to sit anyone for this game or any other game at the moment.

Donovan did make Serge Ibaka take a day off at Indiana on March 19th but Ibaka has been battling some nagging minor injuries and has seemed tired at times. That move and the end the regular season approaching has prompted the questions about other Thunder players.

But neither Durant nor Westbrook are very interested in taking time off, in fact KD said the other day after practice, “I got my rest last season and earlier this year, (with injuries) so I’m good.”

After the blowout win over the Spurs Saturday night in which San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich rested all his star players Donovan was asked if he regretted not resting his own.

“I wasn’t upset like, ‘wow, I wish we could have rested our guys today,’ because I didn’t think it was the right thing to do. Neither did our medical staff. I think it’s more of how we’re playing than anything else,” Donovan added. It has nothing to do with who we’re playing. It’s about what’s best for us.”

Raptors coach coach Dwane Casey told reporters last week he wouldn’t risk his players’ health just to chase someone in the standings, apparently referring to the Cavaliers whom the Raptors trail by just 2 ½ games for the top spot and home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

With a win tonight the Raptors would get to 50 victories for the first time ever in a single season and since the Cavs have already announced LeBron James will rest tomorrow night at Houston they would have an excellent chance to close on that lead.

Casey sat DeMar DeRozan for rest on March 15th at Milwaukee but after Toronto clobbered the Pelicans in New Orleans 115-91 Saturday night, winning for the fifth time in their last seven games, DeRozan didn’t sound like anyone who wanted or needed to spend any extra time on the bench.

"We've got to understand the second half of the season is where it counts, where it matters, where we understand who we are and what we've got to do to win," he told reporters. "Because it's not just for the season, it's for the postseason going in and understanding we've got to be a defensive team and have to get stops."

The Raptors have been a pretty stout defensive team most of the season, giving up just 98.3 points a game (5th best in the NBA) and those 91 points the Pelicans scored against them Saturday marked the fifth time in the last seven games Toronto has held an opponent under 94 points.

The Thunder of course will challenge that streak like few other teams. OKC has won seven straight games by an average of 16.9 points and is scoring 117 points a game during that run on 51.6 percent shooting.

With a win tonight the Thunder will have their longest winning streak since taking 10 straight during the last two weeks of January, 2014.

Durant has his own streak going too, now 58 straight games of scoring at least 20 points. During the streak KD is averaging 27.8 points on 51.1 percent shooting and the Thunder are a stellar 43-15,

He had 27 points and seven rebounds in the Thunder’s November 105-98 home loss to the Raptors. DeRozan led the Toronto effort that night with 28 points. The two teams have split their last six meetings.

We already know the Thunder plan to play this game at full strength and we’ll see later today how Casey plans to play it, but with a realistic shot at the East’s top spot why not go for it?

So it should make for a good game and a strong test the Thunder can use to hone their game for the playoffs.

NOTES:

  • Thunder backup center Enes Kanter had a 20-point, 10-rebound game against the Spurs Saturday night giving him 21 double-doubles this season to lead all bench players.
  • Kanter also leads all non-starters in rebounds coming off the bench with 7.9 per game.

  • Raptors forward Luis Scola, long a thorn in the Thunder’s side, has gone 21-for-27 (77.8%) on threes over his last five games.

  • Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry is tied with Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook for the NBA lead in steals per game (2.1)

  • At shootaround today Russ probably had the best line when he was asked about Raptors coach Dwane Casey saying they needed to sent two guys after him to cover him, “Well you better get a third one then.”

Tipoff is set for 6:40 Oklahoma time in Toronto you can see the game on Fox Sports Oklahoma. The Thunder will be in Detroit Tuesday night.