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OKC Westbrook and Durant

Raptors Expect To Face Russell Westbrook In Toronto

Russell Westbrook was given the night off in Cleveland on Thursday so the Thunder could avoid playing their star guard in back-to-back games when they came to Toronto and played the team that snapped their 13 game home winning streak back in December.

Westbrook returned from knee surgery just under a month ago and the Thunder has been limiting his minutes. It is far more important for Oklahoma City to get to the postseason rested and healthy than worry about whether they end up in first, second or third place in the Western Conference.

Point guard isn’t the Thunder’s only concern. Starters Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha are not expected to return until the regular season is almost over. In their absence, the results have been inconsistent. The Thunder have defeated Houston and Chicago, but split a pair of games with the struggling Lakers.

When the Raptors defeated the Thunder earlier in the season, there were no excuses. Westbrook and Kevin Durant led their team in scoring, but they just shot 13-33 with 11 turnovers between them. They may have something to prove in Toronto.

The Raptors will be short-handed heading into Friday’s game as well. Patrick Patterson is still resting a sore elbow and Jonas Valanciunas didn’t play last game because of a stiff back. Amir Johnson played last game on a sore ankle, but he rarely takes time off to heal.  Valanciunas did warm up with his team on Wednesday, so it’s possible he’ll be ready to go in this one. Toronto will need him.

On paper, the 49-18 Thunder (heading into Thursday’s action) shouldn’t have anything to worry about from the 38-29 Raptors. With Westbrook and Durant, the star power decidedly belongs to Oklahoma City. If the Raptors get into a shootout with this team, things will get ugly pretty fast. Toronto’s best chance at the unlikely season series sweep over the Thunder will come at the defensive end of the court. If the Raptors can hold this high powered offense in check and turn them over like they did earlier this season, they’ll have a chance.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 
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