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Jose played some solid D, and showed he is rounding back into form

I’m not sure if it was due to the Thunder missing Kevin Durant, but you could tell by the Raptors’ body language early on that they believed this was a game they could win. Over the last couple of years, there have been too many nights when you couldn’t say that.

Toronto came out of the gates aggressive and got running, a style of play they have had success with this season. The quick pace of the game got a solid Friday night crowd rowdy and energetic, and the Raps fed off of that energy.

Andrea Bargnani got off to another good start, and the first half, overall, was good from a Raptors perspective. However, a second quarter lapse and some Sonny Weems turnovers had the Thunder up seven at the break.

Then, as if they believed they were the better team, the Raptors simply came out and dominated the second half, taking it to the Thunder for a consistent 24 minutes. The third quarter, in particular, was the difference-maker, as Toronto outscored Oklahoma City 34-18 in that decisive third period.

Much of the credit for the third quarter explosion has to go to Jose Calderon. Jose had the Raptors running, and did his best to get everyone involved, throwing perfect lobs for Sonny Weems, Amir Johnson, DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis.

Jose (and Jerryd Bayless) also deserves credit for working his butt off on the defensive end tonight, keeping Russell Westbrook as contained as possible. Calderon has been better defensively of late, and he deserves praise for that improvement, in addition to the way he is running the Raptors’ offence.

Those who have read my stuff over the last few years know I have often been critical of Jose, especially his defensive inabilities. But I’ll definitely give him his credit when it’s due, and right now it’s more than due.

Bargnani also continued his improved play, notching his first double-double of the season by adding 12 rebounds to his 26-point outburst.

Leandro Barbosa got in on the fun by netting 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting in just 26 minutes. You often hear of guys who can score in bunches, but there is perhaps no one who does it like Leandro.

No matter how you square this one up, the Raptors picked up an impressive victory with another total team effort. Sure, it’s easy to say the Raps grabbed win no. 8 because Durant wasn’t on the floor. But admit it, even without KD, most of you still probably assumed another loss was on the way.

Raptors Player of the Game: Andrea Bargnani – 42 Min, 26 Pts, 11-20 FG, 1-3 3Pt, 3-4 FT, 12 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl

Thunder Player of the Game: Russell Westbrook – 32 Min, 20 Pts, 9-19 FG, 0-1 3Pt, 2-2 FT, 3 Reb, 7 Ast, 2 Stl

Oklahoma City Thunder

What’s the deal with the Raptors playing teams without their best players this season? So far, they’ve played the Wizards without John Wall, the Sixers without Andre Iguodala, and tonight they’ll probably play the Thunder without Kevin Durant as he’s expected to miss the game with a sprained left knee — an injury he suffered against the Hornets on Monday.

Before you go thinking this gives the Raptors a good chance to win tonight, I should inform you that the Thunder are 3-0 when playing without Durant this season and Russell Westbrook has averaged 29 points, seven assists and seven rebounds in those games. In Wednesday’s triple-overtime win over the Nets, Westbrook posted these gaudy numbers: 38 points, nine assists and 15 rebounds. Did I mention that he just turned 22 last month?

Durant or no Durant, the Raptors would make a big statement with a win tonight. With the way they’ve been playing lately, I wouldn’t put it past them. Oh yeah, and a Raptors win would put them in sole possession of eighth place in the Eastern Conference (with an 8-11 record, but still!)

Injury report

Toronto: Peja Stojakovic is listed as questionable for tonight with his swollen old-man knee (writes the guy who is actually older than Peja).

Oklahoma City: No KD, but that’s it.

Five questions

1. Will this season’s more athletic version of the Raptors be able to do a better job keeping up with the young, dynamic Thunder? Oklahoma City’s two victories over Toronto last season were by a combined 46 points.

2. Which Raptor guards will be able to have some success keeping Russell Westbrook off the glass? At today’s shootaround, Jay Triano said, “It’s the responsibility of the guards to get a body on him to stop his direct line…”

3. Have you played against Russ in NBA 2K11? It’s like trying to guard Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil.

4. Is “Serge Iblocka” a top-five NBA nickname?

5. Is Nick Collison the sweatiest man in the NBA? Megan Wilson attended yesterday’s practice and she claims that she’s never seen another human being perspire like that.

Start time: 7:00 PM ET
Channel: TSN2
Probable starting lineups
Toronto: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, Sonny Weems, Amir Johnson, Andrea Bargnani
Oklahoma City: Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka, Nenad Krstic

Tonight’s pregame song is “Mind Eraser, No Chaser” by Them Crooked Vultures. Try not to erase too much of your mind this weekend.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lgn_ZOyFLiQ

- The biggest news to come out of morning shootaround was that Kevin Durant will not play for the Thunder because of his sprained knee. The Raptors have been catching the breaks with respect to facing teams who are without some of their best players. Now, to see if they can take advantage.

- Of course, this is a Thunder team that is coming off of a triple-overtime victory against the New Jersey Nets where Russell Westbrook finished with 38 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists, including scoring all 13 of the Thunder’s points in the third overtime period. To stop the Thunder, you have to stop Westbrook. Not sure how successful the Raptors are going to be, but Jay Triano says they’ll guard him with, “a lot of different looks.”

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