Their record and their place in the ranking indicate that they are sliding into oblivion. Their core and their story say they are in the midst of a failure that will correct itself at some point this season or next.
What they are not doing – yet – is rebuilding.
Oklahoma City’s thunder? They are rebuilding and doing it with a level of thoroughness that makes the Philadelphia “Process” look like half a measure.
Two years after the Thunder split with Russell Westbrook and five years after Kevin Durant left for the Golden State Warriors, the Thunder are set to reshape the NBA with 34 draft picks to use over the next seven seasons – 18 in the first round; 16 in the second, overall more than double the typical attribution.
They will be able to use those picks to draft stars or group them together to make daring trades, all in the name of building around a young core centered around a pair of Canadians: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who was putting together an all-NBA. season level before sitting indefinitely with plantar fasciitis and all-NBA defense candidate Luguentz Dort who missed the game due to concussion protocols.
The Raptors team in Oklahoma City was the youngest in the NBA with an average age of 25 – and that includes Al Horford, 34, who has been closed for the season.
The Raptors couldn’t beat them though, as they fell 113-103, fading into the stretch as they disappeared with a realistic shot in the playoffs.
Toronto lost its fourth straight game and its 15th in the last 17 games to end March with just one win to its name. They are now 18-30 years old and sit in 11th place with 24 games to go. It didn’t help that Kyle Lowry was ruled out before the game with an infection in his right foot and was likely out of action for a week to 10 days, or that newcomer Rodney Hood had to leave with a hip injury which has been described. also quite serious after the game.
Things feel grim.
Meanwhile, in the ‘sell wins or sell hope’ equation that is so much a part of the sport, the Thunder have enough hope to strike a 2-for-1 deal. For them, the rest of this season is. a development lab, a tryout and a race to make sure they pick as high as possible on draft night.
The Raptors are stuck in no man’s land, trying to convince themselves they can make the playoffs where what’s left of their championship pedigree will make life difficult for anyone who meets there. But the belief falters.
” It’s hard. I mean, I don’t know, does anyone really care? Is it important? said VanVleet. “I mean, I have to show up tomorrow and prepare for a game on Friday, so I mean I can tell you how I feel, but I don’t really think it’s really that important right now, we have to watch forward and try to keep getting. better. ”
What is frustrating is that for long stretches Toronto has played well. They played at their favorite pace. They got a career-high 31 thanks to newcomer Gary Trent Jr., who was hot from the point and stayed that way for most of the game. They got a competitive performance from Fred VanVleet who had seven assists, five steals and four blocks to go with 17 points and yet another good outing from OG Anunoby who had 20 points and 11 rebounds.
But it was not enough. As has been the case throughout the season, Toronto was defeated by a long drought – in this case, it was most of the second half. The Raptors shot just 7 of 23 in the third quarter and started the fourth with an 89-87 lead before dropping in the fourth. Toronto shot 6 of 25 in the fourth and just 27 percent in the second half. They were running out of gas and it showed.
“We’re fighting uphill,” VanVleet said. “You know things like, you want to be in a game. And tonight what you would think would be our three best players with me Pascal [Siakam] and OG, you know, all trying to recover from COVID, obviously, and like, you can feel that we’re all hitting the same conditioning wall at the same time, and so there are breakouts where we’re playing high basketball. level and spurts where we are zero. … It’s hard to put our finger on what exactly it is because there are 1,000,001 things wrong out there, but we have to figure it out somehow.
The Raptors’ struggles were escalated as it seemed like every time the Thunder went missing they would chase a stray ball or win the battle for the bounce and get another chance. The Thunder enjoyed a sizable advantage in almost every position and several possessions ended up with the likes of 7-foot-2 Moses Brown and undrafted find or six-foot-eight Isaiah Roby, a second-placed player. tower, playing volleyball on the glass.
The Thunder took the lead with 10 minutes left and the Raptors couldn’t respond. The Thunder finished with 19 offensive rebounds and 30 second chance shots. That was the difference in a game in which Toronto made 16 threes for 14 for the OKC and forced 20 turnovers for 19 points as well.
“I think we were times where we didn’t block, the lack of physique and they got around us and there were times we did it and then we didn’t take the ball, no? It’s kind of a two-part job. You have to mark your guy with a block and then you have to go get the ball, ”said the nurse. “I just thought we had to go a little harder most of the time, but yeah, that was a big, big deal tonight. I think other than the numbers that played out, it was a spirit, it was a little disheartening, because we were playing a … really good defense for many periods of this game and they came away with two points to one. setback or even three sometimes.
It’s a story that’s been told over and over again this season.
There was hope early in the first quarter when the ball began to fly at high speed generating open shots that the Raptors were letting fly with a rhythm and confidence that had been lacking for a month. In the lead, Trent Jr. picked up where he left off with a solid effort against Detroit on Monday. He reversed his first four shots and, interestingly, scored twice on the rim on dribbling practices – supposedly a weakness for the 22-year-old acquired from Portland the deal that sent Norman Powell to the ‘Where is.
But the good vibrations could not be maintained. The Raptors led 32-30 after the first quarter, 67-59 at the half and 89-87 before the fourth, but were beaten from there as the Thunder held Toronto to 14 points in the final quarter.
They were running on steam and ended up drying up. The Thunder have hope, and plenty. The Raptors are looking for it.