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Gameday: Rockets @ Raptors, Jan. 8

After the rough game against Chicago last night when once again the Raptors just couldn’t come through against the Bulls, the team will have to recover both mentally and physically very quickly, because they return home Sunday night to face the visiting Houston Rockets who are rolling lately. This will be the second and last meeting during the regular season for the two teams, after the Raptors won the first game on November 23rd 115-102 behind a balanced offensive effort.

In the November game, the Raptors had 6 score in double figures, led by DeMar DeRozan’s 24 and forced 26 turnovers for the Rockets, including 12 from James Harden, to slow the potent Houston offense. They also held 6th Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon to 4/13 from the field and 1/8 from three point range. However, since that game, the Rockets have gone 20-3 to leap to the fourth best record in the league, while the Raptors have struggled lately, losers of 4 of their last 7 games while they’ve tried to find a power forward rotation with Patrick Patterson out with an injury.

I won’t rehash the debacle in Chicago from last night here, but that game could have a massive impact here. The Rockets have the second best offense in the NBA with an offensive rating of 115.4, and while the Raptors have the third best offense at a nearly identical mark, Toronto prefers to play at a slower pace, ranking 21st in the league in that metric while the Rockets play at the 4th fastest speed in the league. That combined with the fact that four Raptors starters played more than 40 minutes last night could definitely cause some issues for the home team, and it’ll be interesting to see if Dwane Casey tweaks the rotation to try to manage more rest for his starters. Either way, the team will need a strong effort from their bench in this game, and without Patrick Patterson the bulk of that will likely fall on Cory Joseph and Terrence Ross.

Also, speaking of the rotation, with Clint Capela out lately the Rockets have been starting Montrezl Harrell beside Ryan Anderson in the frontcourt, and this should give the Raptors starting group of Jonas Valanciunas and Lucas Nogueira an opportunity to take advantage of. The much, much bigger Raptors frontcourt should have the opportunity to bully on the boards on both ends of the floor, and might have to, because they could struggle to guard the sharpshooting Anderson on the other end of the floor.

As well, it’ll be interesting to see who starts at small forward for the Raptors, because although DeMarre Carroll did play both ends of the Raptors’ last back to back at Golden State and Phoenix, he only played 46 combined minutes in those games while he played 41 minutes in last night’s game alone. If Carroll does sit, expect Norman Powell to start and likely get the opening assignment of guarding James Harden, who the Raptors will need a full team effort to slow down given his play of late. Although Harden has been averaging 5.7 turnovers per night this season, he’s also giving the Rockets 27.9 points, 8.2 rebounds and 11.9 assists per contest and putting up video game numbers on a regular basis. Harden is the engine of this potent Rockets attack, and any plan to stop them has to start with him.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

Raptors

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet

SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell

SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross, Bruno Caboclo

PF: Lucas Nogueira, Pascal Siakam

C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl

TBD: Patterson

OUT: Sullinger, Wright

Rockets

PG: James Harden, Tyler Ennis, Bobby Brown

SG: Patrick Beverley, Eric Gordon, K.J. McDaniels

SF: Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer, Kyle Wiltjer

PF: Ryan Anderson, Sam Dekker, Chinanu Onuaku

C: Montrezl Harrell, Nene Hilario

OUT: Clint Capela

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