OKLAHOMA CITY — The odds are stacked against the Raptors as they hit the road for what promises to be an exercise in painful defeat.
Whether they get blown out in Oklahoma City, a likely scenario given how dominant the Thunder have been of late at both ends of the floor, get torched on the perimeter or beaten down on the block, it’s not so much the margin of losing as it is the compete level that will ultimately be judged.
No one should kid themselves on the magnitude of the challenge that awaits a Raptors team that has dropped 14 straight games away from home, their last win produced in Cleveland on Jan. 5.
If they can somehow summon the resolve that led to an unlikely win in Orlando, where Sonny Weems buried an improbable three-ball, if they can extract the high-end play from rookie Ed Davis that lifted the Raptors to stunning win in Dallas and if the ball somehow bounces in Toronto’s favour, then perhaps the Raptors will return home with one win.
That’s how daunting this five-game stretch shapes up, a period that could very well see the Raptors drop all five, a possibility that is as real as the Thunder competing for an NBA title.
“Five games in seven nights,’’ began head coach Jay Triano of a schedule that features two back-to-back sets. “Add in the travel and we know it’s going to be tough. And it’s going to be tiring.”
For now, all the Raptors can do is focus on the Thunder, a team that is as hot as any in the NBA.
The disparity in talent between the Raptors and Thunder is so severe that a 20-point loss will be viewed as a moral victory.
Virtually every starter has to play at a high level for the Raptors and every single bench player who gets minutes must make plays.
Even then, it may not be enough against the Thunder.
On Friday, the same night Toronto held court against Washington, OKC’s second unit allowed visiting Charlotte to score on six successive possessions in the final quarter, turning a nine-point hole into a four-point game with 8:13 remaining.
As quick as Russell Westbrook can get from one end of the floor to the other, the Thunder held the Bobcats scoreless on 11 of their next 12 possessions, igniting a 15-2 run that led to a 96-79 lead and an eventual 99-82 win.
“They just wanted this game more, especially in the fourth quarter,” Bobcats head coach Paul Silas would say. “They made plays and we turned the ball over and didn’t make shots. They just kept playing harder and harder and they just wanted to win more than we did.”
If the Raptors play hard, move the ball on offence by sharing it, contest shots on defence and cover for each other, they’ll be no shame in losing to a superior team such as OKC.
As they play out the string, it’s important, naturally, to be rewarded, like they did against the Wizards, but it’s even more important to be competitive and show resistance in hostile settings.
And it doesn’t get any more hostile than this five-game stretch.