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Houston Rockets: What to watch for vs. the Toronto Raptors

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 8: James Harden
TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 8: James Harden
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The Houston Rockets look to make it 7 wins in a row as the Toronto Raptors come into town.

It has been quite the start for the Houston Rockets (10-3) and more so for James Harden. At times, I forget we have Chris Paul. The reason why? During CP3’s absence, Harden is leading this team and balling out of his mind to begin the season.

While the Rockets are off to a fine start, the visiting Toronto Raptors (7-5) are also off to a good start. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan continue to be the guys that make this team go. However, they take on a red-hot Houston squad coming off their 6th straight victory.

As for Toronto, they are coming off a tough loss to the Boston Celtics at the TD Garden. While their record won’t show it, this is no slouch of a team.

Here are a few things to watch for during this game:

Battle of the backcourts

This will be a fun matchup. Harden and Eric Gordon vs. Lowry and DeRozan.  Offensively, the Rockets backcourt will put a lot of pressure on those two to keep up. And let’s not forget, Harden is playing out of his mind recently. Over his last 5 games, Harden is averaging 36.8 points, 12 assists, and 5 rebounds per game. Asking anyone to guard that is a tall task.

However, the Raptors back court may have a slight defensive edge. On the season Lowry is averaging 0.6 steals per game. On the Rockets’ side, Harden is averaging 1.7 steals. DeRozan is averaging 1.3 steals, while EG is at 0.8 steals per game. The only reason Toronto is getting an edge is due to the fact that Harden is still not the greatest man-to-man defender. There are times where he still gets lazy on defense. That has to improve at some point.

Battle of Top 5 offenses

One thing both these teams are pretty even at is scoring. The Rockets rank 2nd in offensive rating, while the Raptors are at 5th. However, if the Rockets fall in love with the 3-pointer and start missing, watch out. Because the Raptors can score the ball efficiently and without a heavy reliance on the 3-pointer.

Indeed, the Raptors are an excellent mid-range team and can pound the ball inside the paint with the likes of Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka. The Rockets must also be aware of Ibaka’s ability to stretch the floor.

Battle on the defensive end

While the Raptors have some gritty defenders in Ibaka, Lowry, and Valanciunas, the Rockets have some weapons of their own. Not only can some of these guys shoot the ball from distance, but they are excellent defenders. The reason Houston has the advantage defensively is because of P.J. Tucker, Luc Mbah a Moute, Clint Capela, Trevor Ariza, and Nene.

In a small ball lineup featuring Ariza, Tucker, and Mbah a Moute, the Rockets have three guys who can defend multiple positions, defend the perimeter, and create turnovers.

With Nene and Capela, Houston has two big guys who protect the rim with force. With that said, Toronto should expect a tough and physical contest.

Projected Starting Lineups:

Rockets

James Harden/Eric Gordon/Trevor Ariza/Ryan Anderson/Clint Capela

Raptors

Kyle Lowry/DeMar DeRozan/Norman Powell/Serge Ibaka/Jonas Valanciunas

Overall, this will be an entertaining game that will showcase two teams looking to contend this season. The team that defends better, rebounds better, and produces more bench points, will likely win this game.

Next: What we learned from the win over the Pacers

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