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Game Day Preview: Houston Rockets vs. Toronto Raptors, Mar. 6

By Tamberlyn Richardson
Sep 28, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Toronto Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas (17) guard Kyle Lowry (7) and guard DeMar DeRozan (10) during the media day at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 28, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Toronto Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas (17) guard Kyle Lowry (7) and guard DeMar DeRozan (10) during the media day at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
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The Houston Rockets roll into Toronto to face a Raptors team who haven’t lost at the ACC since January 3rd. Game Day Preview breaks it down.

In their first meeting of the season the Houston Rockets arrive in the 6ix having lost in Chicago last night placing themselves once more in a must win situation. While the Rockets cling to the eight seed they hold a slim one game margin over the Jazz and with the loss have fallen two and half games back of the seventh seeded Blazers.

Last night featured a team equally desperate for the win given they had entered the night seeded ninth. It didn’t hurt the Bulls welcomed back three players including starters Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson . Things won’t get easier tonight given the Raptors have the third best record (behind the Warriors and Spurs) since the start of the New Year. Toronto is currently on a 12-game win streak at home where they haven’t lost since January 3rd.

Toronto and Cleveland have separated themselves all season from the rest of the Eastern Conference with the Raptors arguably being the more consistent of the two squads. Their accomplishment is all the more impressive when you consider the adversity they’ve faced. To start the season the Raptors had a road heavy schedule that featured only 6 home games prior to December 3rd.

They also had multiple injuries to maneuver such as starting center Jonas Valanciunas who broke his hand and missed 17 games. Even more impressive is the fact their key free agent signing (DeMarre Carroll) has missed 37 games, and told reporters he was only healthy for 4 or 5 games of the 23 he did play in. He’s been working his way back from a knee procedure and plantar fasciitis and is expected  to return to action some time this month (likely toward the end of March).

Considering Carroll was brought in to improve the Raptors defense and add 3 point scoring the Raptors record is all the more impressive. When he does return expect to see Toronto’s defense climb back into the top ten. To wit, since the All-Star break the Raptors have been sizzling on offense, but their defense has taken a dip. Coach Duane Casey will be attempting to utilize this 7-game home stand to refocus their efforts and build better defensive habits.

Part of their defensive regression can be attributed to the fact Casey has basically only had 9 players to utilize all year though rookie Norman Powell  has been used sparingly. For the most part the two rookies (Powell and Delon Wright) two Brazilians (Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira and Bruno Caboclo) and Anthony Bennett have seen little to no action. Bennett in fact was waived last week when the Raptors signed Jason Thompson who was released by Golden State to make room for Anderson Varejao. So when you consider the Raptors have won 41 games relying primarily on their All-Star backcourt and 3 new players (Luis Scola, Cory Joseph and Bismack Biyombo) it truly puts Toronto’s success in perspective.

The Details

Venue:  Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Game Time: 6:30 PM EST – 5:30 PM CT

TV: NBA TV – Nationally televised, ROOT in Houston, Sports Net One in Toronto

Radio: 790 AM in Houston and the Fan 590 in Toronto or on Sirius:207(Internet H:907/A:890)

Recent History:

February 21, 2015: TOR 76 – 98 HOU

March 30, 2015: HOU 96 – 99 TOR

Walking Wounded:

Raptors:

  • DeMarre Carroll  remains out from knee surgery, progressed to one on one practice work, expected back in March

Rockets:

Projected Starters:

Raptors: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, James Johnson, Luis Scola, Jonas Valanciunas

Note: last game out the Raptors started rookie Norman Powell in place of Johnson who has been nursing a foot injury, but given the size of Houston and depth in their front court if Johnson is okay to go expect him back starting as he’ll also help defensively on Harden

Rockets: Patrick Beverley,  James HardenTrevor Ariza, Donatas Motiejunas, Dwight Howard

Reserves:

Raptors: Bismack Biyombo, Cory Joseph, Luis Scola,  Patrick PattersonTerrence Ross, Norman Powell

Rockets: Corey BrewerJason TerryK.J. McDaniels, Josh Smith,  Michael Beasley

Rockets at Raptors
Rockets at Raptors

Don’t let the offensive stats fool you. The Raptors have been lighting it up especially on their home court. Since the All-Star Break they rank first offensively scoring 115.0 points per game

Keys To Winning:

  • Win the First Quarter: one factor both teams have in common is slow first quarter starts, so the team who gets the better start may have the edge.
  • Key in on the Raptors backcourt: There’s no way around it the Raptors have a formidable duo in their backcourt. DeRozan shoots the second most free throws behind only Harden, will drive the paint aggressively and has significantly improved in his 3-point shooting (since the All-Star break he’s shooting 36.3% and in February he shot 45%) Lowry is the man in the 6ix as his play is what drives the team and he represents the character of the squad: one word – FEISTY. When the Raptors need a run stopped Lowry will sense it first and better still he’ll score to stop the opponents run.

Other than Curry, and Lillard no one has been more consistently great this season at leading their team or hitting that pivotal shot. Now here’s the rub, you might be able to stop one of the two, but no team this season has been able to stop them both. Good luck with that! Oh and by the way skinny Kyle Lowry is a real thing – – and he HATES to lose to former teams, so there’s that too.

  •  Capitalize on the front court: So, while I can preach to attack the paint and for the Rockets to use their size especially given the fact Scola has been lagging of late.  I personally think he’s nursing an injury and his 35 year old body needs rest. Tthe problem is the Rockets seem to not know what they are doing at the power forward position either. Patrick Patterson has excelled defensively but is hit and miss on offense (but usually more hit than miss). As for the centers the Rockets will also have a handful facing Valanciunas who continues to excel offensively and has improved in a redefined defensive role. Motiejunas knows J.V. well since they both play on the Lithuanian National team.

But the interesting part of Toronto’s front court is Bismack Biymobo  who has been embraced by the TDot who love their gritty players; it is still a hockey town first. Biyombo is subsequently having a career season between the fans falling in love with his effort and team helping develop his previous non-existent offense. In Charlotte he got no real offensive sets run for him, but the squad has worked to develop the pick and roll for him and he’s a beast at the rim blocking shots and manning the defense. Toronto’s two centers are like the perfect yin and yang duo.

  • Pace: The other area the Rockets might be able to gain some leeway is by forcing pace, pushing transition, but coming off a game last night and the Raptors being rested will make it difficult. Not to mention teams like Portland and Washington tried that and the results weren’t good – – the Raptors swept them both. In fact, but for some unlucky (and down right terrible whistles) the Raptors could have beat the Warriors this season, and not just once. They lost by 5 in Oracle and 3 at the ACC.

Prediction:

More from Space City Scoop

The odds makers give the edge to Toronto by 7.5 with an over – under of 213.5 points. Early action is heavily on Toronto.

So, if you read my keys to the game you can pretty much ascertain I’m not feeling confident for the Rockets. There is just so much working against them: the Raptors home court advantage, they are rested, they are confident and I have zero confidence the Rockets guards will be able to stop the Raptors guards.  And, it’s not just DeRozan and Lowry… Cory Joseph has played well enough to garner serious 6th man of the year consideration especially on the defensive end. He had a poor second half versus Lillard who was unconscious hitting everything, (he scored 50) so look for him to rebound via his defense on Harden today.

Just in case all the stats I outline above doesn’t have you nervous check out the Raptors performance at the ACC during this 12 game home winning streak:

Note they are shooting 48% from the field and close to 40% from behind the arc. They’re out rebounding teams and doing all the intangibles like grabbing steals and blocking shots and winning by more than 10 points per game.  Also of note the Raptors simply don’t lose when they hold teams under 100 points (and often win even if they don’t). Oh, and the Rockets haven’t won at the ACC in their last 8 visits! (stat bar above from Raptors Media note).

The Rockets might get lucky and catch the Raptors napping, but I wouldn’t count on it. Sorry – but I’m calling this one for my home town squad.

Raptors by 10 plus *though I will point out if the zebras act like they did Friday when they sent the 2 teams to the line almost 90 times Harden and DeRozan could be in for a long afternoon shooting free throws.

For more exciting news and stories on the Toronto Raptors visit our affiliate FanSided siteRaptors Rapture  or the site I also contribute to Raptors Republic. Plus check out our Preseason Team Preview of the Raptors :

Next: Northern Rising, Raptors Team Preview

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