If any team wishes they could borrow from the OKC Thunder to help their struggles it’s the Toronto Raptors. The team who won the championship just two seasons ago has fewer wins than OKC and is living in a constant state of Murphy’s Law this season.
To begin the season the Raptors learned they would be transplanted to a new site because the Canadian – U.S. border would not allow cross border travel. That resulted in the Raptors having to move their floor, gym, and everything the team would need to Tampa Bay. Although Amelie Arena was one of the first to allow fans on site it was a far cry from what the Raptors were used to.
Case in point, watching their home games in Tampa Bay – every game has more opposing fan jerseys in the stands than Raptors fans. It’s probably why head coach Nick Nurse often deadpans about the 72 game road trip his Raptors are mired in this season.
Like the Thunder, the Raptors have a rabid fan base. Prior to COVID-19, Raptors Nation followed their team all over the United States as there are fans throughout Canada who used to travel across the border to attend games.
They have such a strong following the games in Detroit and Cleveland often had a louder Canadian anthem than the home team. Chants of ‘Let’s go Raptors’ and ‘Defense’ were noticeably louder than the home side. Players have remarked on the stark contrast of this season with many very eager to return to Toronto in spite of the nicer weather in Florida.
Many of the players didn’t get situated in housing until six weeks to two months into the season. Toronto like many teams prepared to make a run at Giannis Antetokounmpo this coming offseason. Based on that goal they elected not to offer longer-term deals to Marc Gasol or Serge Ibaka expecting to likely lose one of them. Instead, they lost both and it was all for naught as the reigning MVP elected to stay in Milwaukee. Ironically, the player who could be the biggest free agent this offseason is now Kyle Lowry.
Because Nick Nurse runs a very complex defense it took 20 days for the newcomers to learn the system. By that point, the team was 2-8 and near the bottom of the East’s ladder. In the next 21 games, the team hit their stride collecting a 14-7 record beating elite teams like the Nets, Bucks (consecutive wins), and 76ers. And then disaster struck.
OKC Thunder versus Toronto Raptors – three keys to match:
The entire front row of the coaching staff and five players caught the COVID-19 virus. That included three of their four top players (Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby). Unlike other clubs who were allowed to postpone games, the NBA made the Raptors bring players from the G-League up and forced them to play.
By the time the five players returned the Raptors had lost seven of eight games. The trio missed three weeks of games with Siakam losing 15 pounds and they’re still not 100 percent. In fact, two more players are now out under the health and safety protocols.
This comes at a time when the team traded three players at the deadline including Norman Powell — another starter who was starting and averaging 19.6 points per game while shhttps://thunderousintentions.com/2021/03/30/okc-thunder-offseason-al-horford/ooting 43.9 percent from deep. The team is decimated again and limps into OKC.
Even in matches where the Raptors played well enough to win, the whistle has killed them. In eight games this season one player from the opponent side has taken more free throws than the entire Raptors team. They lost a recent match to the Jazz by three points in which they received 14 free throws and Utah took 41.
They arrive at this match seeded 11th in the East, two games back of 10th. However, the East is so tightly packed 6.5 games separate the fourth-seeded Hornets and Raptors with six teams between them while the Wizards and Cavaliers are .5 and 1.0 games behind the Raptors. Essentially 10 teams could realistically finish fourth as only the 76ers, Nets and Bucks have created any semblance of distance from the rest of the field.
An extended winning streak could pole vault any of this group up the standings (just as the Raptors and Heat did earlier this season). By the same token, with approximately a third of the season remaining an extended losing streak could end a team’s shot at making the playoffs.
The Thunder also enter following a loss and on a three-game losing streak. Equally similar to the Raptors, OKC is mired in injury with their core trio out as well as the top vet.
The main difference, however, is the Thunder would prefer to amass losses to improve their draft position. Ultimately, one of their main competitors to garner that top lottery seed could very well be the Raptors unless they hit another stretch of wins.
It’s unfortunate SGA and Dort are out as both are Canadian and as such have an avid following in Toronto. For example, when the Thunder announced SGA would miss significant time with plantar fasciitis all the Canadian Sports shows featured a segment on it.
With that let’s dive into the specifics of the match.