Raptors expect Gasol back for trip to OKC

The Toronto Raptors are getting healthier, a trend which looks to continue Wednesday.

The defending NBA champions expect big man Marc Gasol back after missing 12 games with a hamstring injury when they travel to Oklahoma City to face the Thunder.

That comes on the heels of power forward Pascal Siakam (groin) and shooting guard Norman Powell returning to Toronto's lineup in Sunday's loss to San Antonio after missing 11 games apiece.

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"I think it'll be a challenge, to be honest with you," Toronto coach Nick Nurse told reporters recently when asked about reintegrating players back into the lineup. "I think we've gotta be careful with guys that haven't played in, what, a dozen games? ... I don't want to put them under too much duress."

Toronto treaded water without the trio of regulars, going 6-5 in the 11 games without the three.

A big reason for the Raptors being able to survive without a large chunk of their regular rotation has been the play of veteran big man Serge Ibaka.

Ibaka has averaged 18.6 points and 10.5 rebounds over the last 13 games. He's shooting 42.1 percent from behind the 3-point line and playing 32.3 minutes per game -- 11 more than he was averaging before Gasol's injury.

"Serge has been playing unbelievable the whole time with all the injuries," Siakam said. "He's been great. Having those two guys coming in and out is a nightmare for the other team."

The game wraps up the season series between the two.

In their only other meeting this season, Toronto native Shai Gilgeous-Alexander hit the game-winner in the final minute to help Oklahoma City knock off the Raptors 98-97 on Dec. 29 in Toronto.

Gilgeous-Alexander scored a career-high tying 32 points in that game.

And now, Gilgeous-Alexander is coming off his best overall game in his second NBA season.

In Monday's win at Minnesota, he had 20 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists for his first-career triple-double. Gilgeous-Alexander had seven defensive rebounds in the first quarter alone, after never having more than 10 rebounds in any game during his career before that.

Gilgeous-Alexander became the youngest player in NBA history with a 20-rebound triple-double and joined former Thunder star Russell Westbrook as the only two guards in the last 30 seasons to record a 20-point, 20-rebound triple-double.

Gilgeous-Alexander gave Thunder assistant coach Brian Keefe particular credit for the jump in rebounding numbers.

"Coach just challenged me before the game to fill up the stat sheet," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "He knows what I'm capable of and challenges me every day."

The Thunder come into Wednesday's game having won 12 of their last 15 games, which Gilgeous-Alexander attributes to a more aggressive mindset.

"When you attack as a group, you get more comfortable faster," Gilgeous-Alexander said.

The Raptors are 4-6 in their last 10 and have alternated wins and losses in their last nine games.

Oklahoma City has been without backup center Nerlens Noel for five games with a sprained ankle while Toronto guard Fred VanVleet has missed the last three games with a hamstring injury.

--Field Level Media

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