The Toronto Raptors are in Oklahoma City to take on Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and the Thunder tonight on ESPN. The Raptors expect to get Kawhi Leonard back but they should be without Kyle Lowry as he is dealing with ankle problems. The Thunder get Russell Westbrook back after his one-game suspension due to picking up too many technical fouls. Besides, that addition, the only other concern for the Thunder could be the loss of backup center Nerlens Noel. Noel missed last game and is questionable to play here today. Oklahoma City is -4.5 in this game.
Raptors Seeking Top Seed Still
The Raptors come into this off of a big win over the Knicks on Monday night. They will be losing a star and replacing him with a superstar in this spot and I think they will generally be fine. With Kawhi Leonard in the lineup, Kyle Lowry has taken a clear backseat most of this season. I think Fred VanVleet starts this game at the point guard position for the Raptors and has a performance that can relatively mirror Kyle Lowry’s production on an average night with Kawhi in the lineup. It is possible that Jeremy Lin starts, but VanVleet is now healthy and Lin has really struggled since coming over to the Raptors. He seems really timid and coach Nick Nurse has been really hesitant to give Lin a lot of run at all. Maybe if Lin plays well, he can see extended run, but we haven’t seen that happen yet.
The Raptors will also be without Serge Ibaka, who is serving the last game of his 3 game suspension following his fight with Chriss. Ibaka has been a key player in the Raptors’ success, but Marc Gasol has thrown that production off a little bit. The Raptors seem to rotate centers based on the opposing team, which means that we likely would have seen Gasol start and playover 30 minutes in this spot regardless. Ibaka would’ve been nice to have in this matchup, but I don’t think he would’ve produced very much anyways.
Thunder Looking to Bounce Back
The Oklahoma City Thunder have lost 3 straight to the Pacers, Warriors and Heat. That final game was without Russell Westbrook, where they really struggle to score for significant portions of the game. With Russell Westbrook back on the floor, we should see the Thunder try to pick up their pace and run with the larger Raptors lineup if they can rebound well. I expect to see the Thunders standard rotation with the possibility of seeing even more of Adams and Grant if they are still without Noel.
Paul George is having a career year and that almost came to a halt after he ran into some shoulder inflammation. After this injury, we saw George really struggle to shoot the ball well, but he has rebounded nicely. George has been the Thunder’s leading scorer in the last 3 games and has stated that he is 100% good-to-go at this point. I expect a lot of attention around the Kawhi Leonard vs. Paul George matchup coming into this national TV game. I think both of these guys will get there’s, but the difference in this game can easily be one of these two getting hot.
Raptors Top Thunder
This is a really interesting game when I look at the line and I really think this line is strange. The Thunder are -5 point favorites over the Raptors in this game, which I find strange. Both are really good teams and the Thunder are at home, but I think this weighs the Kyle Lowry news too much. I think this game is much close to a toss-up than -5, which makes me really like Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors tonight.