The 42-32 Toronto Raptors host the 49-24 Houston Rockets at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night, a game you can catch at 7 p.m. on Sportsnet One. It’s a big one for the Raptors, as they’re presently tied with Chicago for the third seed in the East and only a game-and-a-half up on Brooklyn for the Atlantic Division crown and home-court advantage in the first round. It matters about the same to Houston, as Portland has moved within a game-and-a-half of them for home-court in the West, too.

But it won’t be easy for either side. The Rockets are on the second game of a back-to-back and are missing a key piece, while the Raptors may be missing a key piece. Let’s start there.

Injury Updates
Toronto: Kyle Lowry’s status won’t be known until pre-game media availability, which is around 5:30, give or take. Context clues point to him not being available, but the lack of an update following Tuesday’s re-evaluation may mean it really is up in the air. As much as it would hurt their chances, I’m hoping they play it safe and sit Lowry down, and then, at most, play him in a single game of the Friday-Saturday back-to-back. Longview, people.

Houston: Dwight Howard is out, Patrick Beverley is out, Greg Smith is out and Terrence Jones sat out on Tuesday with the flu. So the Rockets are without their two best defensive players, and in 827 minutes without either on the floor this season, the Rockets have surrender 119 points per 100 possessions, well above their 107 mark overall (that’s per NBAWowy.com, though NBA.com/stats has their marks much lower, though still worse without Beverley and Howard).

E-mail Exchange
To help us set the stage, I enlisted the help of Michael Pina of many, many places, including Red 94, the True Hoop Houston Rockets blog.

Obviously, any defensive game plan has to begin with James Harden, one of the top five scorers in the NBA. His Euro-Step is unstoppable, and he isn’t bad anywhere, ranking in the top-100 in just about every play category, per Synergy. He does appear less effective in straight isolations than on the move, which makes sense, but my question is this: what type of defenders have tended to do a good job limiting Harden? He’s shot under 40 percent on 16 occasions, so it’s possible (though he only scored less than 15 points in seven of those games, since he’s so prolific at getting to the line).

Defending James Harden is probably one of the three or four most difficult defensive tasks in the league right now. His step-back jumper is one of the scariest things you’ll ever see. Off nights generally feel more like his own undoing than a defensive strategy. Harden’s shot selection can be insane, especially from behind the three-point line. But in the half-court, teams should always try forcing him right, making him a distributor sooner than later out of the pick-and-roll—going above the screen every single time—and letting someone else (hopefully Omer Asik) beat you.

More handsome: Chandler Parsons or J.J. Redick?

Parsons, only because his hair game is more versatile.

Why do the Rockets hate threes? A year after setting the NBA record for attempts and in the same year their D-League affiliate has attempted 417 triples a game, the Rockets are all the way down to…the 10th-highest 3FGA/game mark of all-time. I think many thought Dwight Howard would open up even more threes – is this a case of Dwight needing his interior touches, regression from the most extreme season ever, or a bit of both?

Houston still loves three-pointers. They jack up a ton in transition and have yet to meet an open look they didn’t love. But personnel changes from last year have made the shot more of a useful weapon than necessary means for survival. Dwight Howard sucks up plenty of possessions in the post (a good thing) and draws enough attention to open up easier opportunities at the rim for guys like Terrence Jones. The three-point line was a novelty act last year, and the Rockets are far more dangerous with a somewhat balanced attack.

Daryl Morey and Mark Cuban in a No-Disqualifications match at Wrestlemania, who you got?

Morey. Size matters.

The Rockets defense has been pretty solid. Perhaps that’s not a surprise with Howard and Patrick Beverley in the starting lineup, but how concerned are you with the team’s defense while Beverley sits? In particular, Kyle Lowry should eat Jeremy Lin’s lunch, and it’s not as if James Harden can really help. (Note: Q&A took place before Lowry’s injury and Howard’s status confirmation.)

Beverley is fantastic at the point of attack and recovering to block a point guard’s shot. But he also fouls a TON on the perimeter, which isn’t so great when the other team gets in the bonus super early. (Strange enough, Houston allows 101.5 points per 100 possessions with Beverley on the floor. Guess how many they allow with Lin out there? 101.5.)

Houston’s defense is anchored by Howard and Asik. Both can do just about everything a big man needs to do as help defenders and immovable objects in the post. As long as one of them is on the floor, the Rockets will operate at a top-10 level. Chandler Parsons is quietly improving on the perimeter, though he’s still covered with warts on that end, and Harden meanders between working too hard and not working at all.

Beverley’s absence will hurt against Toronto, but doesn’t Kyle Lowry eat everybody’s lunch anway?

The Breakdown
Vegas says: Raptors -1 with 58 percent of action going to the favorite and 62 percent hitting the over of 203.
Hollinger says: Pick ’em
Houston’s Slim Thug says: They say I can’t get in cause I’m dressed like a thug

Blake says: It’s really hard to call anything in this one. With a full squad against a Rockets team without Howard and Beverley and maybe even Jones, at home, with Houston on a back-to-back, this should be a win. The Rockets are good and the West fantastic, but the Raptors are on par when you take the injured players away, and they have the situational advantage.

Having said that, it’s Kyle Lowry with his status to be determined, the team’s most important player, and if it were me in charge the team would be taking every precaution with him. Too much is up in the air, so definitely stay away from the line – I’ll take the Raptors if Lowry gives it a go, otherwise I’d give Houston the egde. Lowry is worth a couple of points, and with the line this close he’s the deciding factor. Really bold, I know.

UPDATE (6:00 PM)

  • Roarque

    If Lowry plays it will be for less than twenty minutes which should be saved for 4th quarter heroics. It’s time for Vasquez to earn a 2014/15 contract offer. I predict he’ll flop and Nano DeColo will be our saviour.

    • asifyouknow

      I predict Vasquez is a starting point guard in the NBA …get over it dude ..get over it…There are at least 10 games you won because he came in saved your rear….He will not be in Toronto next year you need to get Aj back he has become a hall of famer…lol

      • Abused Raptors Fan

        You do realize that he’s a RFA this summer right? If Lowry leaves or Vasquez doesn’t sign an outrageous qualifying offer for a backup pg elsewhere, I can’t see him leaving the team

        • asifyouknow

          He stays if Casey is done. He is not Casey’s type of guy…of course Casey isn’t the GM type of guy either or he would of already rewarded him with a contract… Just guessing

      • Abused Raptors Fan

        Oh and speaking of facts and stats, this year – as our backup pg – is his first with a positive on/off net rating. Also, he’s never posted a positive off/def net rating, or a WS/48 greater than 0.079 (from this year with the Raps). Its not that I don’t think he’s a good player in this league, or that he doesn’t help our team out, or even that he couldn’t start, its just that his best role is coming off the bench for a contender. Just because I, and many others on the site, don’t idolize him doesn’t mean we are Vasquez-haters…

        • asifyouknow

          Are you and Roarque the same guy ?s confusing here the way one can change their name from one post to another..

        • asifyouknow

          Last I looked this is the NBA not fantasy basketball with meaningless stats that are made up so they can talk about something.
          Here is a new stats for the fantasy players:
          When the temperature in the arena is above 70 degrees F and there are 22,175 fans who scream at exactly the same time , one is more likely to miss a shot..
          That is how silly those stats are…lol

          • Abused Raptors Fan

            It’s kind of sad that you’d assume 2 posters must be the same person just because they don’t agree with you, which is frankly a bit offensive. Second, you regularly claim that other people are being “silly” and yet you ridiculous equate advanced statistics with “When the temperature in the arena is above 70 degrees F and there are 22,175 fans who scream at exactly the same time, one is more likely to miss a shot…” Just because you don’t agree with the stats, doesn’t make them meaningless or silly Rudy Gay. If you want people to take YOU seriously, maybe you should tone the rhetoric done a bit and show a little objectivity in your player evaluations.

      • cdub

        Starting point guard on a losing team maybe, unless he’s playing with Lebron or Durant. He is incredibly inconsistent. He’s one of those guys that goes on a run or stinks up the joint. Defense is questionable.

        • asifyouknow

          lol…not true…. not any diff than anyone on this team…people dribbling off their foot and going in the paint and losing the ball etc etc….You just game an idea.. I’m keeping track of everybody who gets beat or loses the ball or takes a bad shot…..

      • Roarque

        I really really hope you are right. In a perfect world Greivis will prove he can lead the Raps AND Kyle will return along with Greivis to be the one-two punch that a contending team needs in the NBA with its gruelling 82 exhibition games before the real season starts in April. GV is a good player on offense and hopefully Dwane can turn him into a passable player on defense. You have to admit that GV will never replace KLow as the starter – as long as Kyle’s willing to play with the Raps.

  • Reed

    Rest Lowry. No point in rushing him out for a meaningless game. Rather have Nando and Vasquez play some minutes and see who can step up.

    Also, I better see TRoss on Harden at all times and even Landry Fields. Also, with Dwight out and Lowry out Jonas should have a big game.

    Plzz no ISO Derozan if Lowry’s injured

    • ahoang

      meaningless?
      I agree he shouldn’t be rushed back and play limited minutes if he does go, but we’re jocking for playoff position with BK and CHI up our ass.

      No game is meaningless from here on

      • asifyouknow

        Do you really think that with Miami and Indiana it really matters…Please! Play whoever ..

        • FREEJV

          whats indys record in march again? yea they re unbeatable for sure

          • asifyouknow

            All those teams are resting. Miami did the same trick last year and turned it on in the playoffs……this is the mini-tank period for the contending teams. Please I thought you were a true NBA fan…lol

            • FREEJV

              Yea indiana rested everyone during march (not really) even though they want the #1 seed and miami was right behind them….. makes sense. btw if greivis plays like shit tonight you re gonna hear from me all night long he better not fuck up.

              • asifyouknow

                And deservingly so..I wont say a word….But if he plays like he always does I will brag…

                • FREEJV

                  so if he gets 9 pts you will brag? lmao . thats his average

              • asifyouknow

                With Kyle and even with Howard on the bench I think this was a lost. Asik may be too strong and crafty for JV … …hope I’m wrong..

        • ahoang

          wth are you talking about?

          • asifyouknow

            The road end in one of those teams…….so who cares who they play..is over at miami or indiana…agree

            • ahoang

              K, but if that’s the attitude then why are you here?
              why bother comment or follow this team?

              And if you want your boy GV to be playing, why not cheer and root for the team to get to the second round?
              Maybe we have some GSW vs. Dallas spark in us. I’m sure no one saw that one coming.

              • asifyouknow

                I think with some luck Toronto will get past the first round so I do want them to win…But it will be Miami vs Spurs again…Spurs are unbeatable this year..

                • Reed

                  Vasquez is a good PG. Not sure why ppl here don’t get that. Lowry in his first year was awful and feuded with Casey. This year Vasquez has publicly said that he can’t play well when given limited minutes which is a shot at Casey. See the trend.

                  We all saw how TRoss responded and how Ed Davis responded when Casey was forced to give them minutes.

                  Blame Casey. With TRoss able to guard athletic PG’s Vasquez’s defense deficiencies can be somewhat nulled, esp against a Harden or Lin tonight.

                • asifyouknow

                  NOBODY can guard Harden and Lin is very crafty…even with a healthy Lowry is would be an almost impossible win….No Howard but Asik would be a starter anywhere,,

          • Abused Raptors Fan

            He’s just bitter and resentful because he thinks Vasquez doesn’t play enough minutes so he believes that Casey and the Raptors are holding his man crush back lol

            • asifyouknow

              And you wonder why you can’t be taken seriously…!

  • asifyouknow

    Asik had 24 rebounds and 10 points the other night so it won’t matter that Howard is out and Lin had 31 points as a backup.

    WHY! would Casey take a chance with Lowry I don’t think it matters if he plays or not at this point, specially when everybody is hurting. This was probably was going to be a lost anyway.

    Vasquez can handle this , the guy is a starting PG…let it roll…

  • asifyouknow

    You have no idea how much pleasure it gives me to tell the VASQUEZ haters on this board that he will play about close to 40 minutes….lol…lol…Just guessing! OH! and will start…just guessing…so I may be wrong!…lol

  • FREEJV

    so by the end of today its likely that we will be only 0.5 games ahead of brooklyn and might be 5th seed by the time its saturday. cool

    • jjdynomite

      Wrong. Moron.

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