February 28 - Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets entered the All-Star break on a three-game winning streak while leading scorer Kevin Martin appeared to break out of his shooting slump. There's little reason to believe a visit from the Toronto Raptors will cool either off.
Martin and the Rockets look to win their fifth straight at home over the Raptors on Tuesday night and continue their strong overall play at the Toyota Center.
Houston lost seven of its first 10 games, but enters the second half tied for fifth place in the Western Conference with the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Rockets (20-14) won three straight before the All-Star break after dropping three of four. They defeated Atlantic Division-leading Philadelphia 93-87 on Wednesday to improve to 14-4 at home.
Only Miami, Oklahoma City, Chicago and San Antonio have better winning percentages since Jan. 13.
"I'm never going to say we're overachieving, or underachieving," guard Kyle Lowry said. "I think we're a good team, and I think we're going where we're supposed to be going."
Houston has a good chance to stay hot in the second half. Six of its first eight opponents out of the break have losing records, and it will face the two above-.500 teams at home.
That upcoming stretch combined with wins over Memphis and Philadelphia last week have the Rockets feeling good.
"We beat two playoff teams," forward Patrick Patterson said. "Two great teams with great players and this is great momentum for us. It is something we can hang our heads high on and just keep the momentum, keep pushing forward, stay positive and just focus on the task at hand."
One player who had an up-and-down first half was Martin. But after averaging 7.3 points on 26.7 percent shooting from Feb. 4-14, Martin averaged 19.4 points and shot 49.2 percent in the final five games before the break.
Martin scored 14 of his 16 points against Philadelphia in the fourth quarter.
"I finally woke up," Martin said. "All-Star break, the closer it gets, it can kind of mess with your mind."
Martin has averaged 25.8 points in his last four games against Toronto.
The Rockets and Raptors have split their last 10 meetings, with Houston winning the most recent 114-105 at the Toyota Center on Dec. 31, 2010. Its four consecutive home victories in the series have come by an average of 13.7 points.
Toronto (10-23) snapped a four-game skid with a 103-93 win over Detroit last Wednesday, just its second victory to conclude a seven-game homestand.
"We definitely needed that," said DeMar DeRozan, who scored 23 points. "I hope it carries over into the second half."
DeRozan averaged 20.4 points in his last seven games before the break, but he might not have to shoulder as much of the load starting Tuesday. Leading scorer Andrea Bargnani (23.5 points per game), who has missed the last 14 games with a calf injury, is traveling on the team's two-night trip to Houston and New Orleans and could play.
DeRozan, who scored a career-high 37 points in last season's loss at Houston, isn't the only Raptor playing well in Bargnani's absence. Jose Calderon averaged 18.0 points and 10.5 assists in his last six games before the break, totaling only nine turnovers.
In his last three road games, however, Calderon has totaled 12 points, 14 assists and 10 turnovers.
The Raptors are 5-12 away from home. They've been outscored by an average of 14.7 points in losing all nine road games to teams with winning records.
Burn from ESPN in the opening paragraph.