Game Day: Raptors @ Rockets Nov. 23

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Although the Toronto Raptors were earmarked to have the third easiest schedule in the Association, it might seem like an over reach at this point in the season.

To date, the Raptors have faced five of the top seven defensive squads, winning against all except the Clippers.

defensive-stats

Over the past 8 days the Raptors have faced three of the top five ranked offensive squads.  They’ve been less successful with the offensive teams, losing each game. That said, two of the games occurred on the back end of back-to-back sets. The latter, an evening after the crazy call that ended their game prematurely in Sacramento.

Tonight they make it a clean sweep of top 5 offenses as they tip off against the new look Houston Rockets.

 

offensive-teams

New Look Rockets:

Coaching Staff: First on the agenda for GM Daryl Morey was hiring a new Head Coach. Following an exhaustive search Mike D’Antoni was hired. Given the regression of the Rockets defense last season, Jeff Bzdelik (previously with the Memphis Grizzlies) was also hired as an Associate Coach.  Clearly, the hopes of the Rockets’ brass was to marry D’Antoni’s offensive prowess to James Harden’s unique talent.

Free Agents: After Kevin Durant and Al Horford were off the table Morey set about adding shooters who could spread the floor and were capable of creating their own shots. Ryan Anderson was the stretch four Houston had long desired, so they made him their top free agent priority.

Nene Hilario was signed in an economical contract to provide mentorship to young Clint Capela who replaces Dwight Howard as the starting center.

Arguably, Eric Gordon was the Rockets best free agent addition. The former Pelican can play either guard position and is equally adept at creating his own shot as he is scoring from range. Furthermore, Gordon fulfills the scoring needs as the sixth man and offers an ideal backcourt partner for Harden to close games.

Canadian Tyler Ennis was acquired in a trade for Michael Beasley. Ennis provides depth at the point which is essential since Patrick Beverley has a penchant for getting injured.

Internal Growth: Much like the Raptors have high hopes for sophomores Norman Powell and Delon Wright, Houston has similar hopes for their second year players. Sam Dekker missed all but 3 games last season due to back issues, and Montrezl Harrell spent much of the season with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Rockets D-League affiliate.

Houston selected Chinanu Onuaku 37th and Zhou Qi 43rd in the draft this past summer. Neither are expected to contribute this season with Qi remaining in China and Onuaku likely to develop in the D-League.

Like Toronto’s addition of Fred VanVleet, Houston added two undrafted prospects: Kyle Wiltjer and Bobby Brown. The 6’10 Wiltjer spent 2 seasons in Kentucky and 2 in Gonzaga. His senior season saw him produce 20.4 points, 6.3 rebounds 1.5 assists and most impressively he shot 43.7% from deep. Wiltjer isn’t phased by the NBA three point line distance as he’s capable of hitting shots closer to half court with equal success. Wiltjer will likely spend most of his year with the Vipers developing, but he is definitely a D’Antoni type player.

Conversely, Brown who has spent time in the NBA (and is a Harden buddy) is expected to be the player waived if the team can finalize negotiations with the still unsigned Donatas Motiejunas. To that end, there may be news today regarding Motiejunas as it’s the last day the Rockets can sign D-Mo and still include him in trades this season.

rockets-raptors-stats-nov-23

Game Specifics:

The Venue: Toyota Center, Houston, TX
The Tip: 8:00 PM EST
TV: TSN
Radio: Sportsnet 590 The Fan

Walking Wounded:

Raptors:

  • Delon Wright – shoulder, targeting a December – January return following surgery
  • Jared Sullinger – foot, had surgery expected to remain out until January as per Masai Ujiri
  • DeMarre Carroll rested Monday versus the Clippers, so he should be good to go tonight.

Rockets:

  • none

Rotations:

Raptors Starting 5:

PG: Kyle Lowry: 19.9 points, 7.2 assists, 5.5 rebounds, shooting 42.7% from 3 last 5 games
SG:DeMar DeRozan: 30.9 points, 3.7 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 49.1% field goal percent
SF: DeMarre Carroll: 8.5 points,  3.9 rebounds, shooting 40% from 3 last 3 games
PF: Pascal Siakam: 5.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.5 offensive rebounds, 54.4% field goal percent
C:  Jonas Valanciunas: 14.4 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.3 offensive rebounds, 56.9% field goal percent

Raptors Bench:

PG: Cory Joseph
SG: Norman Powell
SF: Terrence Ross
PF: Patrick Patterson,
C:  Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl

Note: Fred VanVleet and Bruno Caboclo have been reassigned to the Raptors 905 D League

james-harden

Rockets Starting 5:

PG: James Harden 28.6 points, 12.4  assists, 7.8 rebounds, 36.5% from deep, 5.4 turnovers
SG:Patrick Beverley 8.3 points, 3.3 assists, 1.3 rebounds
SF: Trevor Ariza:  12.2 points, 2.1 assists, 6.2 rebounds, 2.1 steals, 38.2% from deep
PF: Ryan Anderson: 5.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 40.0% three point field goal percent
C:  Clint Capela: 11.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 61.2% field goal percent, 1.8 blocks

Rockets Bench:

PG: Eric Gordon,  Tyler Ennis, Bobby Brown
SG: K.J. McDaniels, Corey Brewer,
SF: Sam Dekker
PF: Montrezl Harrell, *Kyle Wiltjer
C:  Nene Hilario

Chinanu Onuaku is with the D-League Vipers and while *Wiltjer had been called back up it’s likely he’ll be sent back .

Recent History:

Last season, the Rockets swept Toronto with James Harden at his very best and Kyle Lowry getting ejected in one of their meetings. Go back one season and you may recall DeMar DeRozan had a career best 42 point scoring effort including his final shot which sealed the win with 18.1 seconds remaining.

Notably, Harden and DeRozan are childhood friends who seem to take their matches against each other as personal vendettas.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acVdSAZZdw0

Betting Line: To reiterate Blake’s comments, most home teams have a 3 to 4 point starting advantage. The early line has the Rockets as 3.5 favorites which in essence means the odds makers see this one going Houston’s way. As for the over-under, early predictions are 216.6 points which isn’t surprising given these 2 teams rank among the top 5 offenses and bottom 10 defenses.

Keys to winning:

As much as Anderson and Gordon bring scoring to the court, neither is known for their defensive chops. Toronto should take advantage of their screen usage against Anderson in particular, who shies away from having to do much running on the defensive end. Getting him in early foul trouble also removes one of Harden’s favorite targets.

There are 3 specific areas of weakness for Houston: turnovers, perimeter defense, and transition defense. If Carroll, Lowry, and Patterson can continue shooting the long ball like they have the past few games they could be in for big nights behind the arc.

Assume Dwane Casey will enlist a platoon of players to guard Harden. Whoever is on him needs to be careful of his patented up and under move to draw fouls, but at the same time needs to play him aggressively, as he coughs up the ball 5.4 times per game. Moreover, the Rockets rank among the top of the league in opposition points scored off turnovers.

As for DeRozan and Lowry the Rockets best defenders are Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverley. Inevitably one of them will be given the assignment to guard DeRozan.

Capela who has fared well in previous games versus the Raptors has shown steady growth and will offer a tough test for Valanciunas.

Closing:

On the surface this game could solely be viewed as two offensive titans preparing for battle. Dig a little deeper and both squads have been discussing their intent to improve defensively. In fairness, Toronto has been on a hellish schedule and tonight marks their sixth game in 9 days. Worse, the Raptors have played 2 back-to-back sets in this time frame and faced the top 3 teams in the Association.

If there is a silver lining, it’s the Raptors competitiveness. As has become synonymous with Toronto’s identity they refuse to go quietly into the night, battling until the buzzer sounded in each of their losses. Further, the Raptors scored the most points and registered the highest opponent field goal percent (50%) against the Clippers all season. Still, the issue for the Raptors hasn’t been offense. Rather, Toronto needs to shore up their team defense, as one bad quarter has ultimately been the tipping point in their losses.

Harden is the key to Houston’s offense and represents a major challenge. He can spread the court all on his own and uses his drives to set up open shooters or gain easy lay-ups. Oklahoma City had the best results against him (13 points) employing a game plan of cutting off his driving and passing lanes while aggressively challenging his shot. They enlisted Andre Roberson to keep Harden in check and his aggressive defense and height worked effectively to bring Houston’s offense to a stand still. It’s somewhat of a double edged sword, either you allow Harden to be a distributor and rely on your man on man defense to stop his cohorts, or you force Harden into being a scorer and hope he doesn’t go ballistic.

Ideally the Raptors will refuse the urge to get into a run and gun pace because that bodes well for Houston. The Raptors enter the night having lost 4* of their last 5 games, so they’ll be eager to get a victory. If they focus on defense they’ll have a much easier task since the Rockets rely almost solely on their offense.

With two games remaining on this Raptors road trip a win tonight offers Toronto the opportunity to head to Milwaukee and still salvage an above .500 road trip result. To that end, expect a focused, aggressive Raptors effort.

 

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