Fan Duel Toronto Raptors

Gameday: Raptors @ Rockets, Jan. 25

The Toronto Raptors visit the Houston Rockets and James Harden, who is currently on one of the league's best historical scoring stretches. Let's have some fun.

The Houston Rockets are good at basketball.

The Toronto Raptors are good at basketball.

Tonight should hopefully be a good basketball game.

End preview…but I suppose there is probably more to say.

 

Let’s start with Houston, one of the league’s strangest teams at the moment.  After winning six straight games against some of the best the NBA has to offer from December 22 to January 3 (San Antonio, OKC, Boston, New Orleans, Memphis, and Golden State), they have alternated wins and losses over their last 10 (note: the pattern dictates they will lose tonight…just saying).

While winning hasn’t been consistent for Houston, the one thing that has been is James Harden.  Despite injuries to Chris Paul and Clint Capela, and the Rockets getting to the point that even Kenneth Faried was a welcome addition, Harden has been putting up historical numbers over the last month.

Harden is averaging a league best 36.3 points per game this season, but Harden has reached another level and forced his way into the MVP conversation with his recent play.  Over the last 15 games he has averaged 44.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 7.9 assists, with 8 double-doubles and 3 triple-doubles in this same stretch.

With the stretch Harden is on there seems to be two possible solutions to beating the Rockets:

  • Stop James Harden
  • Let Harden get his and stop everyone else

Neither option is in itself ideal.  Stopping Harden at present seems like an impossibility, while letting Harden get his (within reason) is playing with fire.

Thankfully Toronto is well built to at least force some difficult moments for Houston.  With the return of Kawhi Leonard and OG Anunoby the Raptors have two of the better physical match-ups to throw at Harden.  Big bodied defenders with agility, and quick hands (at least for Kawhi) to help avoid giving up free throw opportunities.

Last season Harden put up 38 points against the Raptors, with the majority coming without OG on the floor.  The tape doesn’t lie:

OG’s defence certainly impacted Harden, but those are also shots that he could still sometimes make even with the hand in his face.  Sometimes shots just drop, and that’s the wildcard that Harden presents.

In Houston’s last game Harden became the first player ever to take 20 three point attempts and 25 free throws in the same game.  That’s just stupid levels of production/gunning on his way to 61 points in Madison Square Garden.

3 Keys That Can’t Be Worse Than Leo’s:

Three Point Line:

This is an obvious statement, but the Houston Rockets love them some three pointers, and they do it at historic levels taking 44.9 three point attempts per game.  This is higher than their then record 42.32 attempts per game last year.  Or the then record 40.32 per game in 2016-2017.  The numbers just keep climbing as Mike D’Antoni gives them the green light to let it fly.

Points in the Paint:

On the other end of the scoring spectrum the Rockets barely make an effort to score in the paint, where they score just 37.4 percent of their points, putting them at 29th in the league.  For the record, Golden State is the only team that scores a fewer percentage of their points from inside the paint.  So while this clearly isn’t an indicator of how dangerous a team is, it does seem to run counter to the Moreyball philosophy of threes and the key.

Toronto meanwhile is basically league average in this capacity, ranking 15th in the league for percentage of their points scored in the paint (44 percent), with Houston being dead last in defending the paint (53.4 points in the paint per game).

Taking advantage of this would be much easier with the presence of Jonas Valanciunas, but the easiest strategy should be to get Harden and Faried in the pick and roll…because they are both terrible at it.

Pushing the Pace:

Houston is slow and methodical.  They might gun but they don’t run, playing at the 3rd slowest pace in the NBA (ahead of Memphis and Cleveland).  Toronto isn’t much faster at 16th in the league, but forcing the Rockets to play at a pace beyond their desire could be a key to success.

Prediction: Raptors 114, Houston 106.