Ray Allen is expected to be back tonight. Ray is uncertain as to how long he'll be able to play, and whether there will be any pain. Hopefully in his time off the court he has gotten his shooting stroke back. If you remember, he was struggling shooting before he went down with the injury (though he was still scoring at a good clip). Check out Kevin Pelton's Insider Preview if you know what is good for you.
We are combining the Game Thread and Patrick's Game Day Warm up into one thread. All the smart stuff below is Patrick's writing, the crap above is Big Chris'.
Haven't had time to put up a game preview in a while as I have been traveling to excess at the end of the calendar year. Today will offer a brief preview from a team I have yet to see play this season.
Tonight the Sonics try a new menu as Ray Allen returns to the floor and Rashard Lewis takes a few months off. Coach Hill has announced that Earl Watson and Andris Glyniadakis will start, and Damien Wilkens will come off the bench as the Sonics go small. In times past the Raptors would seem easy pickings for the Sonics at home.
The Raptors are surprisingly strong offensively this season. They only rank 20th in the league for points scored per 100 possessions with an offensive rating of 105.4, however, this is 4 points beter than last year's Raptors. As a team they have a 47.5% eFG%, but have 5 players with 50% or better. They are currently 15th in the league in points per game at 97 and are shooting 44% overall. They are a middle of the pack team offensively in all other areas except for Offensive Rebounding. They are terrible on the offensive glass, placing 29th in the league. The Sonics need to punish the Raptors for this and own the defensive boards to get out and run.
Their best offensive players are TJ Ford and Chris Bosh, but they have gotten solid contributions from Morris Peterson, Jose Calderon, Anthony Parker, Fred Jones and Andrea Bargnani. Ford and Ridnour should be an interesting matchup, as will Bosh and Wilcox. The winners of those matchups may well decide the game.
The Raptors are second in the league in avoiding turnovers. However, Ford has been sloppy passing in the past and the Raptors allow the most steals in the league. This may be the best way for the Sonics to attack. The Sonics are quite good in the passing lanes, they need to take advantage of what little sloppy play is afforded to them.
With Ray back the Sonics will once again have great clutch scoring and long range shooting. They must NOT rely on that. If they use the three guard lineup to have Watson and Ridnour constantly penetrating and forcing the defense to collapse then Ray will get open shots. Wilcox and Collison will also need to step up big to provide some semblance of post presence with Lewis out. Wilcox has shown some promise here, but he needs to get the post ups AFTER he has hit a few easy dunks and layups to get some confidence established. His hooks and jumpers always look better after he has a few fast break dunks and tip-in put-backs.
The Raptors are not a good defensive team. They are at the bottom of the league in rebounds, total rebounds, steals and blocks. The Sonics need to attack every possession and run the score up early. They MUST take the ball to the basket since the Raptors do not block very many shots (26th in the league).
The Raptors allow around 99.5 points per game and have a 107.4 defensive efficiency rating which ranks well above the Sonics at #16. The Sonics offense is strong and should be able to punish the Raptors defense if they execute and play to their strengths.
The Sonics need a win in a major way. Their current losing streak has been very demoralizing and the loss of Lewis just before Allen returns is a serious blow to morale. They need to come out strong at home against a mediocre team like they did their first game without Ray. This will earn them some much needed emotional momentum. Check out KP's Insider Preview or here for a view from the other side.