So, last night sucked. I’m not sure there’s much sense revisiting at this point, but the cloud of the loss to the Chicago Bulls is absolutely going to hang over the Toronto Raptors as they set to host the red-hot Houston Rockets on Sunday. The Raptors tasked four of their starters with playing 41 minutes or more on Saturday, then traveled one time zone for a tip off roughly 19 hours after that game ended. The Rockets, meanwhile, were off yesterday. It won’t be an excuse, but this tired Raptors team has spent, I believe, 15 of the last 17 nights on the road or traveling, so despite this being a home game, they’re not likely to find much comfort there.
Whatever they’re feeling, they’ll need to shake it off and be ready at the opening tip, because the Rockets will give them exactly zero breathing room. One of the league’s most lethal offenses and a surprisingly average defense have led the Rockets to a 29-9 record, making Toronto’s earlier win in Houston seem like a marquee one in retrospect. Houston’s gotten even better since that time, too – they’re 20-3 since Toronto beat them, including their current seven-game winning streak. They are good, they are fast, they are deadly, and they will leave the Raptors little opportunity to take breathers, no matter how much they may need them.
Houston’s also always a really fun opponent because of the DeMar DeRozan-James Harden parallels, and those two engaged in a nice battle last time out. Both looked to facilitate as much as score, with DeRozan dishing nine assists to go with his 24 points (it was one of Toronto’s more balanced scoring nights as a result) and Harden scoring 29 points with 15 dimes. Expect that to be an entertaining showdown once again, even if they rarely guard each other.
The game tips off at 6 on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.
Patrick Patterson told The Woz after Saturday’s game that there was a “good chance” he’d play Sunday. It never made much sense that he’d return on the first end of a back-to-back, and once he missed the Spurs game, I had the Rockets penciled in as his likely return. With no shootaround to confirm, there’s still a chance the Raptors opt to give it one more night off, but it’s his encouraging that he’s close nonetheless.
UPDATE: Patterson is playing.
How Patterson’s return may change the rotation is an enormous question mark. Before he hit the shelf, Dwane Casey had gotten aggressive in limiting Pascal Siakam’s role, starting Patterson in five consecutive second halves (when he was active). Patterson’s injury seemed like a chance for Siakam to re-establish himself in the starting role, but instead, he lost his grip on it even further. Terrence Ross started a second half, Lucas Nogueira started a second half, and then Nogueira usurped Siakam in the starting lineup entirely, a change Casey had been hesitant to make. On Saturday, Siakam drew his first DNP-CD, with the Raptors preferring to use Jakob Poeltl or some smaller looks off the bench.
Patterson’s return, then, likely signals the end of Siakam’s role for the time being. Things can change quickly, especially if the Nogueira-Jonas Valanciunas pairing proves untenable over a larger sample. Maybe Casey sees Patterson’s return as a reason to get Siakam back in his normal role, even (if the team is still loathe to start Patterson). It’s a tough decision to figure out, because Siakam’s hit a wall (Casey’s words) and the Raptors have been terrible on their own glass so may not want to downsize, but starting dual centers against the up-tempo Houston attack seems a little risky. Expect a lot of tweaking until Casey finds something that works, even if Patterson plays but especially if he doesn’t.
The other thing to note here is what becomes of DeMarre Carroll. His back-to-back restriction has been lifted, but he was capped at 20 minutes in his first back-to-back. He also just played 39 and 41 minutes in the last two games, his largest workloads of the season, and Harden isn’t exactly the easiest of checks. Given Norman Powell’s potential value helping on Harden, the potential return of Patterson, and the team probably not wanting to play Carroll 120 minutes over four calendar days, I’m guessing it’s a fairly light night for him.
UPDATE II: Powell is starting, sliding Carroll to the four. I love this move, didn’t think they’d try Carroll at the four out of the gate, but this is their best approach vs. Houston’s starters, short of starting Patterson.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph
SG: Norman Powell, Terrence Ross
SF: DeMar DeRozan, Bruno Koobuckalou
PF:DeMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas,Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
OUT: Delon Wright, Jared Sullinger
The Rockets enter healthy except for the loss of Clint Capela, which has opened the door for Montrezl Harrell to take the starting center job, at least temporarily. Harrell is an undersized and unrelenting ball of energy, and he can help the Rockets remain a top-10 offensive rebounding team even without Capela. The Raptors’ bigs will have to be hyper-aware of him at all times, because the Houston offense is just too lethal to surrender second-chance points to. The Raptors are dead-last in defensive rebounding, so even their best efforts might fall short in that regard.
This has the makings of a bit of a shootout, then, if Toronto has the legs to shoot with Houston. DeRozan proved a lot for Trevor Ariza and company last time out, and the Raptors will be smart in trying to draw switches to attack Eric Gordon or Ryan Anderson. Patrick Beverley is a pest that might be able to frustrate Lowry, but overall, the Rockets don’t have the individual defenders to confidently slow the Raptors. As fun and effortful (a word I just made up) as Harrell is, too, Valanciunas should be able to score against him in the post, and the Raptors should be aggressive in improvising looks for their center to tilt the interior matchup their way.
UPDATE: Nene is back starting over Harrell.
PG: Patrick Beverley, Tyler Ennis, Bobby Brown
SG: James Harden, Eric Gordon, K.J. McDaniels
SF: Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer
PF: Ryan Anderson, Sam Dekker
C: Nene Hilario,Montrezl Harrell, Chinanu Onuaku
OUT: Clint Capela
- Both Bruno Koobuckalou and Fred VanVleet were recalled following the Raptors 905’s game last night. Both the NBA and D-League club were playing in Chicago, so the youngsters were even able to join their teammates for the flight home.
The Raptors are 2.5-point underdogs. At home. Which means, yeah, the money is on the Raptors being just way too fatigued at the end of this hellacious stretch. It’s probably fair to be skeptical about Toronto’s chances, even with a Patterson return, but it’s not as if the Raptors don’t buck the common logic at most turns. So who knows? The over-under is way up (I feel blessed) at 225. This is going to be a lot of fun if Toronto has the juice to keep it close. And if they don’t? It’s probably going to be a lot more about their collapse Saturday than any real shortcoming Sunday.