I like this Rockets team: I like Darryl Morey as a GM; I like Kevin McHale as a coach (loved him as a player, my entire low post game was modelled after his; had a killer duck under that still works like a charm to this day); I like their mix of players; I even like that they are giving Thabeet a home before he sinks into NBA draft history obscurity.

Other than playing one of the teams I enjoy watching, I had this game circled on my calendar since the 3 point loss last month. The Rockets basically took it hard to the Raptors in the 1st quarter, opening up a 12 point lead, and barely hung on for the rest of the game; losing the each of the remaining three quarters.

Calderon was outclassed by Lowry, while Scola and Dalembert were formidable up front. Otherwise the Raptors bench outplayed theirs, and the clock was the biggest enemy.

I went back and forth with Michael Pina from Red94 about the Rockets and tonight’s game:

Sam: Morey seems to keep striking out when trying to move the young assets he’s amassed (I really like Lowry, Parsons, Buddinger and Patterson) for a franchise player (Bosh, Gasol for now…). If he’s unable to swing something to bring in someone to dominate the low-post, is this collection of players good enough to make runs in the playoff?

Michael: The way I see it, in a western conference that has no flawless team, the Rockets have as good a shot as any to win a round and then see what happens. Their roster is so varying that they’re capable of finding match-up advantages against almost any opponent. (The 4th quarter small ball they play with Courtney Lee at the 3 can create all sorts of nightmares, on both ends.) Instead of dwelling on their weaknesses, Kevin McHale has the Rockets playing to their strength. As far as next year goes, well, that’s another story.

Sam: Speaking of McHale, he’s utterly failed as a GM looking out for the best interest of his team, but as a coach..dude is solid. How do you rate him, and is he in the running for COY?

Michael: No question about it. The job McHale’s done this year—after starting slow, assuaging the hurt feelings of his highest paid player, Kevin Martin, and making the gutsy call to put Chandler Parsons in his starting lineup—has been tremendous. He certainly deserves Coach of the Year consideration.

Sam: It hasn’t been for lack of trying, but do the Rockets make a splash before the trade deadline, and who are viable targets in Morey’s cross-hairs?

Michael: There’s a chance Morey is dangling Kevin Martin on a vine, but the more likely move that’s made would be if someone were willing to take either Hasheem Thabeet, Terrence Williams, or Jonny Flynn off their hands for some sort of capable interior defender. Pau Gasol is the big name most associated with the team, but unless L.A. Is willing to take a package that doesn’t include Kyle Lowry in return, I don’t see how a deal gets done.

Sam: Could we interest you in an Amir Johnson for Jonny Flynn trade?

Michael: If the salaries matched up and it were possible, in a heartbeat, but since the numbers are slightly off, Flynn for Aaron Gray would be a more than welcome exchange.

Sam: I like the sound of that…switching gears to tonight’s game, what will the Rockets concentrate on tonight to beat the Raptors?

Michael: From what I’ve seen this year, the Raptors are playing hard and with an increased level of ferocity on the defensive end. Houston played an overtime game in Boston last night in which they collapsed in the fourth quarter, so it’ll be interesting to see if they can sustain high energy with ball movement and consistent attacking of the basket. If not, Toronto can easily grind out a win.

Given how Jose’s been playing since the last outing, I expect a more evenly matched head-to-head with Lowry. Really want to see him hit those jumpers off the high-screen and force Lowry to man him up on the perimeter. I have more confidence in Ed checking Scola than with Amir, and with Gray playing the way he has been recently, the Raps front-court should be able to hold their heads high in this one. The key will be how DeRozan handles Martin by challenging his jumper, not giving him free trips to the line, and forcing him to defend DD off the bounce and not bailing him out with long jumpers on the defensive end.

I dunno, I’m smelling a win tonight. Houston’s a 2 point favourite, but given they lost to the Celtics last night in Boston in overtime, I’m calling this bad boy even; Raptors by 4.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Pat Sullivan

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