The Raptors arrive to face a desperate Houston Rockets squad with a well rested Kyle Lowry. More worrisome for H-Town is the last time Toronto lost two games in a row it was the games sandwiching the All-Star break! Game day preview breaks it down.
Not much has changed record wise since the teams last met. The Raptors continue to chase down the Cavaliers for the Eastern Conference title, trailing by 2 games, but just one in the loss column and Toronto own the tie-break. The Rockets are exactly where they were the last time they played, losing games most had checked off as gimmes, winning games expected to be routs and clinging to the 8-seed.
Toronto arrives following a rare loss, but it occurred following 5 games in 7 nights, without Kyle Lowry or Patrick Patterson in the line up. Though both former Rockets could have laced them up if it were a playoff game they were given the night off to capitalize on an extended 4-days off to heal their nagging ailments. Either that, or it was a well disguised ‘rest’ period for both. Further, both Jonas Valanciunas and James Johnson returned after missing several games last week while nursing injury, with some inevitable rust.
It’s incredible the Raptors have been so consistent considering their roster usage. Dwane Casey has basically only had 9 players to utilize all year though rookie Norman Powell has been used more in the starting line-up recently without the services of Johnson (plantar fasciitis) and DeMarre Carroll (still out recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery). For the most part the two rookies (Powell and Delon Wright) two Brazilians (Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira and Bruno Caboclo) or the recently released Anthony Bennett saw little to no action. Bennett in fact was waived 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 48 games relying primarily on their All-Star back court and 3 new players (Luis Scola, Cory Joseph and Bismack Biyombo) it truly puts Toronto’s success in perspective.
With that let’s dive in to the game day preview of the East’s most consistent team versus the West’s most inconsistent:
Venue: Toyota Center, Houston, Texas
Game Time: 8:00 PM EST – 7:00 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:890/A:907)
In their first meeting the Rockets took the game at the ACC ending the Raptors 12 game home court streak. It also ended a long spell of losses in Toronto who will look to end a similar losing streak in Houston. Last season the teams split their series.
March 6, HOU 113- 107 TOR
February 21, 2015: TOR 76 – 98 HOU
March 30, 2015: HOU 96 – 99 TOR
- DeMarre Carroll remains out from arthroscopic knee surgery. The Raptors are a close lipped franchise when it comes to trades and injuries, so rumors Carroll will return prior to the end of March remain exactly that: rumors. He is working on court, however he has yet to be spotted in practice sessions, so the assumption is the Raptors should faze him in once they return from the 3-game road trip to Boston, Houston and New Orleans. Coincidentally, the Raptors will play the Atlanta Hawks next week on Wednesday, March 30th which feels like a perfectly fated return date.
- Dwane Casey has been giving various players rest days over the past few games which included nights off for DeMar DeRozan, Luis Scola and Cory Joseph. Though Patrick Patterson, Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas missed games for nagging injuries the first 2 were also likely more tied to giving them an additional night of rest.
- Terrence Jones was dressed on the sidelines last game out, but hasn’t seen game action since February 29th and appears to be in Bickerstaff’s dog house.
- Sam Dekker remains out with his back issues and one would assume the Rockets may just shut him down until Summer League action
Note: last game out the Raptors went with James Johnson to provide defense on Harden, but rookie Norman Powell has been drawing the starting assignment and done an excellent job defensively in those games. Johnson is back, but still dealing with the ever nagging plantar fasciitis injury, so Casey may opt to go with the rookie to see if he can be a deterrent to Harden who scored 40 points last time out in Toronto.
While the above chart demonstrates the offensive prowess of Houston it also highlights Toronto’s superior defense. Also of note, the last game was the first time in 12 games the Raptors hadn’t scored over 100 points (and again, that was without Lowry and Patterson in the line-up).
Arguably the better chart to showcase how far apart these 2 teams are on the spectrum is the one below which highlights how consistent the Raptors have been this season. Conversely the Rockets are all over the place. To reiterate, Toronto is to consistency what the Houston Rockets are to inconsistency. Sure the Rockets have stepped up in big games like the one they played in Toronto, however a look at their numbers shows how well Toronto plays the top half of the league … all the time!
The stat that showcases just how consistent the Raptors have been is how they’ve performed in the first half versus the second half- – exactly the same! And in truth they are probably higher than that 6 rating since they’ve had the second best Eastern Conference record post All-Star break while dealing with several injuries and resting players frequently of late. Moreover they sit behind Golden State only, for wins versus top 10 teams. Also of note, the Rockets lead just 2 power categories, the first is completely arbitrary as it’s for schedule strength (Houston’s final schedule has a lot of home games versus Toronto’s heavy road schedule).
The second category the Rockets rank higher is in the past 10 games, but that is deceiving. Notably the Raptors played 5 games in 7 days last week with 2 sets of back to back series. Jonas Valanciunas missed all but 9 minutes in the first game of the week and as outlined above several Raptors were rested, yet they still managed a 4-1 record.
Want further reason to not doubt the Raptors – – they are on pace to record their first 50 win season (likely 55 or so) in franchise history and are doing it without the services of their key off season acquisition of 3 & D player DeMarre Carroll (as per the notes above). In addition, the Raptors lost both games Lowry was held out of and Patterson has become crucial to the Raptors defense. So, the game in Boston is a bit of a misnomer given 5 days earlier Toronto beat Boston by 14 (and in reality it was never that close).
And perhaps most impressively the Raptors haven’t lost 2 games in a row since the All-Star break (the last game heading into it when Toronto was on the road for a 7-game trip and the city prepared for the festivities and the first game back.
Want more fuel the Raptors will be geared up for this one? The last time Kyle Lowry got a rest day, his next game back he scored 32 points on 13 of 20 from the field, hit 3 threes, grabbed 4 rebounds, dished 5 assists, had 3 steals and was a plus +11.
Oh, and of course there is always the DeRozan vs Harden match-up which always seems to bring out the best in both shooting guards who happen to be childhood friends.
Keys To Winning:
Play with desperation: As noted, the Raptors have a tendency to not lose in back to back games. The Rockets should be amped to play given the implications of the game in terms of Houston’s playoff position. But, they shouldn’t be expecting the same defense they saw from Toronto at the ACC. Since that meeting the Raptors have held opponents to an average of 97 points per game (and that includes 2 overtime games).
Key in on the Raptors backcourt: There’s no way around it the Raptors have a formidable duo in their backcourt. DeRozan shoots the third most free throws behind only Harden and Cousins, will drive the paint aggressively and has significantly improved in his 3-point shooting. Harden may sit 2nd in points per game, but DeRozan is 8th and Lowry is 13th (and he also leads the league in steals).
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. He arrives as the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
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: As much as you would assume the Rockets would hold a real advantage up front, Jonas Valanciunas loves to play ‘typical’ bigs like Howard, and he’s well versed on Motiejunas since they both play on their Lithuanian National team. Luis Scola has taken an upswing after a brief period where he looked fatigued,
Patrick Patterson is the defensive specialist who also happens to be a stretch four, Bismack Biyombo has been a revelation in Toronto and recent signee Jason Thompson has been gelling well within the squads strategic principles. That said, this should be where the Rockets could get some leeway especially offensively with the likes of the surprising Michael Beasley, however he’ll need to defend his position as well or pay the price.
Three Point Shooting: Last game the Rockets were extremely hot from beyond the arc (especially Harden and Brewer) breaking out of a terrible slump. That’s not surprising given it’s the one area Toronto (especially the starters with slow footed Scola and Valanciunas) needs major improvement. Expect Casey to have the team better prepared to handle the outside shot tonight.
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The odds makers give the edge to Toronto by 1.0 point (which really is like giving them a 5 point edge as most home teams start with a 3 to 4 point assumed advantage) with an over – under of 212 points. Early action is leaning toward Toronto.
The Rockets won’t catch the Raptors napping this time round, so it will require a complete game effort on both ends. Stranger things have happened this year as Houston tend to win the games versus top teams. Caution to not let that perceived notion fool you though, as after the Golden State Warriors who boast a 19-1 record versus the top 10 teams, Toronto ranks second with a 15-6 record (of note their two losses to Golden State were by a cumulative 8 points and both came on very questionable whistles that decided the games).
Moreover, while it appears Houston has won a lot of big games, their record versus top 10 teams is 8-16. In addition, Toronto have the best road record in the East at 20-14. Additionally, post All-Star break of the 6 teams who rank top 10 defensively that Toronto faced, they scored over 100 points in winning efforts against them all (with the only time they didn’t win or score 100 coming in the recent loss to Boston, again without Lowry/Patterson).
Hey don’t let me dissuade you regarding the Rockets chances, its just that I’ve watched all 70 Raptors games and all 72 Rockets games, and the feeling I get with Toronto is similar to how Houston made us feel last season – – they would just find a way to win.
To that end, with former Rockets: Lowry, Patterson and Scola in the house I’m taking the Raptors by 5 *the game in Toronto was extremely poorly officiated with an inconsistent whistle all night. Still, I’m more confident in my home team than my adopted team on this night.
The one streak leaning in the Houston Rockets favor is Toronto hasn’t beaten them on their home court in 8 years, then again that was also true of Houston prior to their last win in the 6ix.
For more exciting news and stories on the Toronto Raptors visit our affiliate FanSided site: Raptors Rapture or the site I also contribute to Raptors Republic. Plus check out our Preseason Team Preview of the Raptors :
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