Pre-game news & notes: DeRozan and Harden go head-to-head

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With four losses in the last five games, the Toronto Raptors visit the Houston Rockets in something short of desperate need of a victory. Whether they’re likely to get one or not depends on your general level of optimism and how much you think collective fatigue can have an impact on a team. While this isn’t a back to back, it does represent the sixth city and fourth time zone for the Raptors in the last nine days, and Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, in particular, have been playing some obscene minutes. We’ve talked about all that, though.

What we haven’t talked about since a few weeks back when head coach Dwane Casey made the comparison is the DeRozan-James Harden comparison. There’s not really a comparison to be made on big-picture grounds, but there are enough similarities – posting up smaller guards, crafty Euro-steps, impossible usage volume – to make them worth putting side-by-side. So let us.


Harden’s passing significantly more and using fewer possessions overall, and he hits threes at a super-high volume to help push his efficiency even higher, but in terms of pure counting on the scoring and free-throw front, their pretty similar. Here’s how they’ve done up against each other since Harden arrived in Houston:


I can’t imagine either team tasks their star scorer with guarding the other, not with other options available and with the loads each are asked to carry at the offensive end. It would be fun if they did for a bit, though, just to see if they can figure the other out, like trying to stop an opposite-handed version of the same moves they use at the other end.

The game tips off at 8 on TSN and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
Based on the recent pattern, DeMarre Carroll should be good to go for this one, unless the rest plan calls for an extended break on this trip. If Carroll goes, he’ll probably draw Harden to start, but it’s not exactly his preferred style of opponent. It will, however, be a good test for Carroll’s quickness and ability to use his size to limit a player who’s going to try to weave his way into the paint. Outside of Carroll, I’d suspect Norman Powell would be the team’s best option on Harden, even if Harden is a bit of a bruiser. Powell has the length to deny the ball when Harden isn’t the initiator himself, and he’s done well enough against much bigger wings so far (Harden has weight on him but is only 6-foot-5).

There’s a heavy burden on the entire team defense with Harden out there, because they’ll want to send help on drives but also have to be aware of a lob threat in Clint Capela and at least three serious spot-up shooting threats, sometimes even at once. Lucas Nogueira could be useful opposite Capela and Nene, and Jonas Valanciunas will have to assert himself on the glass against one of the better rebounding teams in the league. Jakob Poeltl may have some use here if Nogueira struggles, as his ability to help and recover could be useful, though it would leave the team a little susceptible inside (opponents are shooting worse at the rim against Poeltl than any of the team’s bigs, but it’s still a small sample, and he can get moved off his spots by thicker fives). It’s an interesting chess match in the frontcourt here, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Casey try Pascal Siakam or Patrick Patterson at the five at some point.

UPDATE: No updates. Carroll plays.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
ASSIGNED: Fred VanVleet, Bruno Caboclo
OUT: Delon Wright, Jared Sullinger

Rockets updates
Houston enters entirely healthy, with both of their D-Leagues recalled. Shout out to Kyle Wiltjer. (And Tyler Ennis…the CanCon is real here. ((And let’s just shout out Chris Boucher, too.))) That gives them the full gamut of options, as I believe Montrezl Harrell (calf) was ruled able to return Monday, he just wasn’t used. He’s not really in the rotation, anyway, as he’s only gone over six minutes on three of the six occasions he appeared in.

Flipping the earlier discussion on who guards DeRozan, I’d imagine the Rockets start out with Trevor Ariza on him. Patrick Beverley is a pesky and annoying defender, but he’s likely to draw the Lowry assignment, and there’s little sense putting Harden on DeRozan when he can be hidden a bit on Carroll (Harden is a capable defender when engaged, but why ask him to do that if you don’t have to?). Corey Brewer would be the logical option as the bench starts to come in, but watch out for K.J. McDaniels here, too – his role has been jerked around some and he doesn’t quite have the size that normally disrupts DeRozan, but if he gets cooking early on, maybe the Rockets try something funky (I see you, Sam Dekker).

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, Kyle Wiltjer
C:  Clint Capela, Nene Hilario, Montrezl Harrell, Chinanu Onuaku
OUT: None


The line
This one is allover the place depending on where you look and when. I’ve seen it as small as Rockets -2 and as large as Rockets -5. Rockets -3.5 seems to be something close to a consensus two hours out from game-time, a line that suggests the Raptors and Rockets are roughly equal in a neutral environment (although Houston might have a wider home-court edge here given Toronto’s recent travel). The over-under is up at 216.5, and it’s becoming a trend for Vegas to bet on offense over defense in Raptors’ games, even with two moderately paced teams like these. I definitely like the under (I have it around 213). I don’t know…I literally have no idea what to expect from the Raptors in this one.

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