Gameday: Raptors @ Rockets, March 25

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The Toronto Raptors will look to get a modicum of revenge on the Houston Rockets when they visit James Harden and company on Friday. The game tips off at 8 p.m. on Sportsnet One and is the second game of a quick three-game road trip, one that’s already seen the Raptors lose their four-game winning streak in Boston on Wednesday.

The Raptors were without Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson, and DeMarre Carroll in that game, but it’s possible they get two of those names back Friday. Lowry sat with a sore right elbow that seemed like a convenient code word for “rest,” while Pattersonw as expected to play earlier in the day but ultimately took it cautious with a sore ankle. Both players would have been justified taking a rest game, anyway, so with some minor maladies present, there’s simply no reason to push things. They could very well return Friday, and those returns could push the Raptors close to full-squad status or facilitate rest for some others. Carroll, meanwhile, isn’t traveling with the team.

Last time the Raptors saw the Rockets, they coughed up a 10-point halftime lead with a terrible defensive showing down the stretch. James Harden went off for 40 points, five rebounds, and 14 assists, while Dwight Howard went for 21-and-11 and Clint Capela made things difficult in 10 really effective bench minutes. The Raptors can’t possibly defend worse this time out, so there’s room for optimism.

To help set the stage, we reached out to Michael Pina of FOX Sports, RealGM, and more. He was kind enough to hook us up.

Blake Murphy: Dwight Howard seems to think the Rockets can still win a championship. Did he swallow too much stickum residue licking his fingers, or something? This team is one-and-done in the playoffs, right?

Michael Pina: The answer to the first part of your question—presented without context—is yes, because he was curious. Moving on, the Rockets have James Harden, one of the five most devastating offensive basketball weapons in the world. He’ll likely average 48 minutes per game in the first round, but that doesn’t mean the Rockets can win, only that their chance of pulling off an upset will rise from 0.1 to 0.9%. Houston’s entire season is cursed. They don’t get back in transition and don’t have enough shooters around Harden who can get hot enough to make the Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs sweat. All that said, this is the same crew that nearly went to the NBA Finals less than one year ago. So, they have that going for them, I guess.

Blake Murphy: So not even Super Cool Beas can save them? I was really hoping for Michael Beasley to land on the Raptors, even though it would make no sense whatsoever. What’s the Beas experience been like so far, and is HE the reason Howard is keeping the faith?

Michael Pina: How about Michael Beasley!? Beating up on weaker competition in the CBA has apparently done wonders for his confidence. He’s shooting 54 percent, averaging 29 points per-36 minutes and rebounding better than he ever has before. It’s a 180-minute sample size, though. And the Rockets are getting obliterated when he’s on the court. But let’s not let numbers that don’t support a feel-good narrative rain on Beasley’s parade. This has been fun.

Blake Murphy: James Harden’s been dealing with a bit of an ankle issue, a rare medical phenomenon that apparently turns scorers into point guards. Does this have a name? More importantly, will the Rockets finally look to add a secondary ballhandler for him next year?

Michael Pina: This is an interesting question. Who knows what Daryl Morey has up his sleeve this summer? One interesting option that literally just popped into my head would be maxing out Harrison Barnes. Not only do you add a role player with championship experience who can evolve into a really nice second (or third) option (and guard multiple positions), but it weakens the Golden State Warriors. It’s not a perfect plan, but it’s a spicy one.

Blake Murphy: The Rockets gave Toronto a bit of a wake-up call at the ACC a couple weeks back, hanging 113 on them and making a big fourth-quarter comeback. From what you can recall, what can the Raptors do differently to nudge Houston toward their bad habits instead of playing to their strengths?

Michael Pina: I didn’t watch that whole game, but remember catching the highlights. On the second night of a back-to-back, it might be Harden’s most incredible performance of the year, and a fireworks display from Corey Brewer certainly helped. Those two combined for 63 points, and it’s, um, doubtful something like it ever happens again.

Raptors updates
As noted, Carroll remains out. Lowry and Patterson are probably both officially questionable but seem likely to play. Someone else could get rest, too, but as far as we know, the rotation will look something like this:

PG: Lowry, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright
SG: Norman Powell, T.J. Ross
SF: DeMar DeRozan, James Johnson, Bruno Caboclo
PF: Luis Scola, Patterson, Jason Thompson
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo, Lucas Nogueira

Powell may look out of place there with the starters, considering Johnson drew the start opposite Harden last time out. But you know what? Why not? Johnson had an up-and-down performance opposite Harden, anyway, and while he’s a very difficult matchup for anyone, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to get Powell that experience and see how he looks against that type of opponent.

Rockets updates
Sam Dekker remains on the sidelines but the Rockets are otherwise healthy, barring a last-minute change. Terrence Jones has been down with an illness, but I can’t find a recent update as to his status. Their rotation will look something like this:

PG: Patrick Beverley, Jason Terry
SG: Harden, Andrew Goudelock
SF: Trevor Ariza, Brewer, K.J. McDaniels
PF: Donatas Motiejunas, Beasley, (Jones), Josh Smith
C: Howard, Clint Capela, Montrezl Harrell

Man, the Rockets are weird.

The line
I’m writing this on Thursday morning, so there’s no line available yet. I’ll try to check back and update but I’m on the road most of the day, so you may be on your own for that.

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