Kyrie Irving
Toronto Raptors Houston Rockets November 19, 2010

Not sure if you realized, but 8 of the last 10 games the Raptors played were on the road. They only won 2 of them, but if you’re an optimist, they’re 2-2 in their last four; that’s something right? It’s definitely been a trial by fire to start the year, and from some of the rumours I’ve been hearing, Triano is a dead man walking. I personally don’t think it’s the right move to fire him, not that I think he’s a good coach, but it really wasn’t fair to hand him this team and expect much out of the situation. We’re good at the mob mentality in Toronto, so if people scream bloody murder loud enough, it might force BryCo’s hand in the matter.

Had a really good discussion with Jacob Mustafa from Red94, about the rough start to the year the Rockets are having, as well as a bold claim:

I’m actually stunned how poorly the Rockets have started the season; yes they played 7 of their first 10 on the road, but this was supposed to be a team that went into the playoffs and could have made some noise. Defense, which used to be a staple, has fallen off the map. What happened?
If you’re stunned by this year’s start, you can’t imagine the jaws agape among Rockets fans. I know the notion might seem crazy, but plenty of Rockets followers had gotten attached to the idea that this team might be the only answer to the Lakers in this conference thanks to years of tough matchups with them (that almost always ended in defeat except for one glorious seven game series… in which four of them ended in defeat). To see the team flailing along and struggling to get its head above water just feels incongruous, and I think most Rockets fans are still dealing with the shock of cheering for a below-average team. As for defense, the answer is simple; this team built its defensive mindset with a certain roster and with a certain coach, and now only three of those players remain on the roster, while the coach bickers with Mark Jackson to make ends meet. The defensive powerhouse that was the Houston Rockets simply dissipated, too far removed from its source to be its own entity.

You essentially traded Ariza for Lee, and he’s been a huge disappointment. This is a two part questions: 1) why did you make that trade 2) why isn’t Lee performing?
Money was saved, and an asset was gained. Observers have flippantly written that move off as a straight salary dump, and while I do think the Rockets were prudent to cut their losses (Ariza fit on the Rockets like the glove fit OJ), Lee simply fit in better with what Rockets management thought its team would be. As for Lee’s performance, he’s simply seemed out of it, though he is being saddled with the responsibility of a ballhandler at times, a role for which he’s almost cartoonishly ill-suited.

I heard some grumblings that the Rockets are still in the market to land Chris Bosh after an unsuccessful summer courtship. Can you shed any light on this subject?
After Wednesday’s rise from the grave, I doubt Bosh will be mentioned in trade talks for a while (like 4 years), but I’m pretty sure that was all based on a Jason Whitlock article where he got his Peter Vescey on and just started spouting ridiculous trade scenarios for Bosh. The Rockets’ chances at Bosh range somewhere between snowball in hell and long-term viability of Disney pop stars.

Yao Ming…I feel bad for the guy. At what point do you say “enoughs-enough” and try to salvage something for him?
Through consistent under-performance, the Houston Rockets have been one of the NBA’s more profitable franchises; that is mostly thanks to the giant one, Yao Ming. This team obviously needs a new building block, but the Rockets’ attachment to Yao runs much deeper than who the offense should be run through. This will likely be the major conflict of the Rockets’ season if playoffs keep looking less and less possible.

How do the Rockets match-up against the Raptors?
The Rockets have been decimated by super-athletic perimeter players in recent weeks, especially stud point guards; though Jarrett Jack and Jose Calderon are fine game managers, they don’t exactly strike the same fear in me as names like Paul, Rose and Westbrook. If Demar Derozan can be contained and Reggie Evans doesn’t decide to eat our faces and collect 752 rebounds, I think the Rockets’ “depth” will be a little too much for the Raptors. I also think Houston’s big man who plays no defense but can pour in buckets, Luis Scola, is better at this point in his career than the Raps’, Andrea Bargnani.

Injuries

Toronto
Ed Davis – Out
Leandro Barbosa – Shoulder, Should Play
Linas Kleiza – Achillies, Should Play

Houston
Aaron Brooks – Ankle, Out
Yao Ming – Leg, Out
Chase Budinger – Ankle, Day-to-day

Match-ups

PG – Jack vs Lowry
One of my favourite parts the season so far has been how we’ve flip-flopped between Jack and Calderon depending on who had the better. Overall, we each have a favourite, but going between them is funny; even if you’re doing it in your head. That said, we can all agree when one (or both) of them is playing like doodoo, and Jack has been playing like doodoo of late: 7pts 3reb 3reb over the last 3 games. The good news tonight is that Brooks is out, and his lightning quick speed and scoring ability will not have us face-palming for large stretches of the game. Lowry is an energetic player, who runs the break well, but doesn’t make the best decisions. His jumper is poor, so there is no reason we should see Jack play him tight right? Let the guy shoot, and keep him away from the glass since he rebounds so well for a 6″ guard. The kids got a knack for getting to the line, so like I said again…let him shoot all he wants.
Edge: Jack

SG – DeRozan vs Martin
So we can all agree that DeMar isn’t a 26pt/game scorer, but he’s also not a 6pt/game guy either. He needs to consistently be dropping 14-17 points every single night if this team wants to be in games for the rest of the year. Martin is an excellent scorer who can get his from anywhere, and most alarmingly, from the line. The kid is great at getting to the line, and great at hitting his free throws. His shot is ugly, but it’s deadly. He gets to the rim, has nice head fakes, and will score an obscene amount of points tonight. The only chance DeRozan has is to go back at him, since he’s such a terrible defender and either get him into foul trouble, or go tit-for-tat on offense. I’m feeling positive on this one for DeMar after a brutal performance against the Sixers, he should be back, but beating Martin in this match-up will be challenging, especially if the pace of the game picks up.
Edge: Martin

SF – Weems vs Battier
Shane Battier is like Anthony Parker to me: a classy, hard working guy who makes good decisions, plays defense and makes their shots; all with a good attitude. He’s a solid cat, and would play for my team anytime. Weems is going to have to play a smart game tonight, since that’s how Shane rolls. He isn’t very athletic, but his length and high basketball IQ make him a solid defender. Weems wont have to worry about him attacking off the dribble, but if he floats a little too much on help, Battier will stick shots from the corner. Weems can use his athleticism to attack Battier off the dribble, but he should avoid over dribble and make his move quick; which he’s been doing a good job of recently. Sonny can get out on the break, and has the advantage if this gets into an up-and-down/running game. I’m looking forward to seeing this match-up play out.
Edge: Even

PF – Evans vs Scola
You have to give Evans his due: he’s playing within himself during games, and being a vocal leader of this team in the locker room. Before the Sixers game, he got the guys together to get everyone on the same page, and they won. I hope he did the same thing tonight, since this Rockets team isn’t as bad as their record says they are. He absolutely will have his hands full with Scola, as the Argentine is having a ridiculous start to the season. Luis is a crafty scorer in the post who can hit the mid-range jumper; he’s deadly from 15ft in where he’s shooting 54% this season. The one knock is that he isn’t the best defender, which wont hurt him much tonight against Evans who isn’t looking to score when he touches the ball as a first option. Scola’s rebounding has come down some since the first four games, but he is more than capable of battling on the glass if the Raptors front court lets up. This is going to be a 1-2 attack with Reggie and Amir giving Scola different looks at different points of the game. Given Johnson’s propensity to foul, Scola might get the nod in that match-up too unless Amir uses his head before trying to out muscle Luis.
Edge: Scola

C – Bargnani vs Miller
It’s amazing Miller is able to move. At this point in his career, he’s really just filler until Yao can play major minutes. Bargnani has an advantage in every facet of the game tonight, and needs to establish himself from the tip (hopefully winning it tonight). I know I’m glossing over this rather quickly, but if Andrea doesn’t dominate this match-up, there is really something wrong with him.
Edge: Bargnani

Keys to the Game

Rebounding
The Rockets are the 4th best rebounding team in The Association. Everyone crashes the boards, and makes an effort on the glass. The Raptors aren’t slouches either, even though they are 16th in the league, they only grab 2.5 less rebounds a game than the Rockets. Controlling the glass will be critical since Houston is also 4th in the league in offense (next point), and if you control the glass, you control the tempo of the game, and force them to play a different style; all on the road.

Defense
The Rockets are 4th in scoring, with a Pace Factor of 100 (# of possessions used in a game). This also ties back to rebounding since the Raptors are the 4th best team in Offensive Rebounding Rate, if they can grab a few more rebounds, the Rockets will get a few less possessions. Regardless of that, with Aaron Brooks out, Kevin Martin and Scola are the focus on offense, and need to be respected as such. DeRozan can’t be taking tonight off, and playing passively. Scola gets the room to operate in the mid-range because K-Mart attracts so much attention on the perimeter. One of these two need to be shut down, and since Evans is a weaker defender than I’d like, it will be tasked to DeRozan (and Weems in certain match-ups) to play Martin tough. I’m not so confidant in this, so rebounding will be crucial to control the flow…ok I’m rambling, but you see where I’m going.

Pick-up where they left in Philly
It’s not like we haven’t played well before. The energy, assertiveness and will to win on our homecourt need to be there from the tip. Like I said earlier, the Rockets are a lot better than they have shown, and need to be respected as such. Can’t get down early, can’t take bad shots, the ball needs to be moved around, and every needs to be vocal on defense.

The Line

This game is even, and that’s exactly how I see it. The Raptors can win it, but they have to take it; the Rockets wont be laying down. This is an important game since we got the Celtics on Sunday.

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One love.