Listening to the Rapcast, no doubt.

The Raptors head to Houston to take on the Rockets at 8 p.m. EST tonight. The Rockets, of course, are a whole new team since we last saw them in 2011-12, having added Jeremy Lin, James Harden and Omer Asik.

To get a feel for how the new Rockets are getting settled in, I sent a few questions in the direction of Michael Pina of Red94, which he kindly answered below.

Do you guys miss Kyle Lowry at all?

Kyle Lowry could’ve been an All-Star last season, and appeared headed there this year before hurting his ankle against the Thunder. He’s really, really good at pretty much everything you’d like your point guard to be good at. So yes, at least a small part of every Rockets fan should be longing for Lowry.

Throw a sputtering, still developing Jeremy Lin into the mix, and Houston isn’t necessarily unhappy with their point guard situation, but they aren’t stupid either. Having Lowry was awesome.

Has James Harden been everything you expected?

He’s been more. Despite watching his responsibilities proliferate in Houston, Harden has been able to carry over that poised excellence that made im so effective in Oklahoma City. The crazy thing about his game, which at times looks unstoppable, is he’s only shooting 32% from the three-point line. A number that’s due to rise. Also, he’s 23 years old.

What is the one weakness the Raptors could potentially exploit on this team?

The Rockets have established an uptempo style of play, running and gunning up and down the court for 48 minutes. It’s worked to both their benefit and undoing, allowing as many possessions as possible while also leaving their defense susceptible in transition.

Any chance the Raptors steal one, or are the Rockets ready to lay the hammer down on a mentally exhausted Raptors team?

I don’t know how much of an impact the death of Kevin McHale’s daughter will have on this team, but my guess is it’ll somehow, someway influence everybody. A lack of professional focus is more than understandable, so from that standpoint I wouldn’t be surprised to see this young Rockets group play as if something much more important weighed heavy on their minds.

The Prologue
The Rockets are 6-7 but actually have a positive scoring margin and when you figure in strength of schedule have actually been pretty good. Obviously, James Harden is the key, as he’s been a revelation as the go-to guy on his own team. Meanwhile, Jeremy Lin has struggled pretty badly (he deserves it for ruining my Valentine’s Day last year), while The Iron Asik has been about what was expected.

How does it shake down for the Raptors, who have lost four straight games where the score was within a basket down the stretch? It’s been heart-wrenching and difficult to watch, while it’s also highlighted some of the warts this team has (see Arse’s earlier piece for just some of the ugly details). They say that one-possession games tend to even out, and scoring margin is a better predictor of blah blah blah…you can’t give away four straight games like that, regardless of the score, strength of opponent, or any other details. They need to either win this game, or lose handedly so we can avoid the heartbreak.

Tale of the Tape
Offensive Rating – Houston 105.0 (15th), Toronto 102.2 (21st)
Defensive Rating – Houston 103.8 (15th), Toronto 106.1 (22nd)
Pace – Houston 94.9 (1st), Toronto 91.1 (22nd)
Strength – Houston FT Defense (3rd lowest FT/FGA), Toronto Ball Protection (2nd lowest TO%)
Weakness – Houston Ball Protection (27th in TO%), Toronto FT Defense (29th in FT/FGA allowed)

Positional Breakdown
Point GuardKyle Lowry and Jose Calderon vs. Jeremy Lin and Toney Douglas
Advantage – Raptors
Lowry is better than Lin, although some of the Republic would likely disagree with me there. Beyond that, Calderon is also better than Douglas, who has a reputation as a strong defender but I don’t remember ever being impressed by him. Lin is shooting under 35% but is at least getting teammates involved with six assists a night. I’ve actually watched a handful of Rockets games this year because they’re a great League Pass team, and I think Lin’s issue is primarily that he’s not the main ballhandler anymore and he’s having trouble adjusting. Unless he magically adjusts tonight, the Raptors maintain an advantage (until the last three minutes, when Jose becomes an even bigger liability defensively and Lowry loses his head).

Wings – DeMar DeRozan, Dominic McGuire, Terrence Ross and Linas Kleiza vs. James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Carlos Delfino and Daequan Cook
Question – Who are the five greatest shooters of all time?
Answer – Daequan, Daequan, Daequan, Daequan and Daequan, I spit hot fire!
Advantage – Rockets
Harden is the best player in the game tonight, which is always an advantage for any team. McGuire will be tasked with guarding him in all likelihood, and he’ll need to utilize his length to disrupt Harden’s ball handling. More importantly will be the help defense and the switching of the bigs, since Harden operates in the pick and roll more often and more effectively than almost any other player in the NBA. McGuire will need to fight through Asik screens, while the Raptor bigs will need to be ready to drop back into the paint, since Asik is also one of the league’s top performers as the roll man. Elsewhere, Parsons has been VERY good and VERY efficient offensively, so it’s not like switching DeRozan onto Parsons will give him much of a break. The Rocket wings are adequate defenders, too, but it will be imperative for DeRozan to attack early and often, both to get freebies at the line (the Rockets don’t foul much) and to make Harden and Parsons work at both ends. Pretty major Rockets advantage here.

BigsAndrea Bargnani, Jonas MFing Valanciunas aka The Lethaluanian aka The Franchise aka H.I. Paperstacks aka The GOAT aka Big Lita, Amir Johnson and Ed Boss Davis vs. Patrick Patterson, Omer The Iron Asik, Terrence Jones and Marcus Morris
Advantage – Raptors
Asik has been good as the roll man, as mentioned, but his offensive game is pretty limited otherwise. He is, however, a banger defensively and should give the Raptor bigs trouble in the paint. Patterson is a solid scorer but not a terribly effective defensive player. I haven’t seen quite enough of Asik to know if he can handle Bargnani or if he’ll be tasked with locking down an improving-by-the-day Valanciunas in the paint. Whoever isn’t guarded by Asik is likely to have a significant advantage. I’ll assume it’s Bargnani since Asik is unlikely to be able to keep up with him on the perimeter, but coming off a 2-for-19 performance that was the “last straw” for a lot of Raptor fans, perhaps the Republic would rather have Bargnani hidden on offense. Regardless, given the combination of the two spots and the Raptors’ sizable advantage when things go to the bench, the Raptors get an edge here. Jonas and Asik could be a VERY fun match-up to watch. And Free Ed Davis.

Overall Analysis
You’ve got to like the Rockets, since they’re at home and have a better team in general. Mike’s point about McHale’s daughter (and my thoughts are with that family…kinda puts a four-game losing streak in perspective) could go either way, galvanizing the team or dragging them down. The Rockets are -6 favorites and I think that’s a pretty good line. On Sunday I underestimated the fight in the Raptors, suggesting a San Antonio blow out given the exhaustion of the Raptors from such a tough week. One game and one heartbreak later, and back on the road, I don’t see the Raptors having “it” tonight. Rockets by 8.


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