With all the hubbub and drama surrounding the NBA and China, the Raptors and Rockets get ready to tip-off in Japan. Not the typical preseason game for either team, as the Raptors just locked up Kyle Lowry for another year ($31M extension) and the Rockets are embroiled in the aforementioned controversy. However, there’s still basketball to be played, and a lot of exciting questions to walk out. The defending NBA champions and the Rockets will play the first NBA game in Japan since 2003.
The newly extended Lowry will no doubt operate within the same role as usual, the same goes for Gasol and Ibaka. If training camp is an indicator of how nebulous and fluid the Raptors lineups will be, expect to see a bit of Pascal Siakam at the three position and OG Anunoby at the two in an effort to test the waters on how the Raptors (projected) best players share the floor. Expect Norman Powell to spend a healthy amount of time on ball as well.
As for the players rounding out the likely rotation for the Raptors, expect a good chunk of minutes in the second half for Terence Davis II, who the Raptors have been teasing more combo-guard development out of. As for potential in the front-court, look to Chris Boucher to get out in transition and bomb away from downtown. If you’re interested in a more in-depth take on Boucher coming into this year, Louis Zatzman had a great piece on him.
The Raptors got their practice in today (Monday), and spirits were high.
“First of all, we’re super excited to be here, I know when this invitation came to us a while ago, they brought it to me and I immediately said ‘Yes.’ I was excited to get here. We’re here to promote the NBA and the city. Obviously, (we’ve) got the defending champs, and I know the Rockets are gearing up for (the title) as we are. We’d like to score points, shoot a lot of 3s, and play team basketball. And (the Rockets) like to score points, shoot a lot of 3s and play team basketball. So I would imagine you should see pretty high scoring (in the two) games.” – Nick Nurse on playing in Japan
The Rockets practiced in the same gym today, and share a similar excitement to the Raptors re: the Saitama series.
“That’s one of the best feelings. There’s obviously a lot of basketball games (back in North America), but for countries that (rarely) have opportunities to see NBA games live in person is like, you have to put on a show, you have to let these fans know how great NBA basketball is. Obviously, you guys watch it on TV, but in person, it’s a different atmosphere. We just left Hawaii (for a preseason game against the Clippers), and we tried to put on a great show. We competed and tried to win a game. And Tuesday and Thursday are going to be the same thing. We try to get better, so it’s not just going to be running around. It’s going to be actual games. We are going to try to execute our plays offensively. And defensively, we are going to try to be on the same page, communicate, and get as many stuffs as we can. The Japanese (fans) deserve to see NBA basketball, of course. And that’s what they are going to get.” – James Harden on playing in Japan
Similar to the defending champs, the Rockets have had a turbulent summer. They turned Chris Paul into Russell Westbrook, and reunited 2/3 of the vaunted Harden/Durant/Westbrook trio, in Houston. Harden and Westbrook have a great relationship and are excited to get to play next to each other this year. As for Tuesday’s game, when Westbrook was asked if he’ll play he said: “We’ll see.”
Like Nurse mentioned in the quote above, both teams will be looking to play fast, get some threes up, and communicate on defense. There’s a lot of fun to be had from these two teams, and as per usual, the first half of the contest will likely be the best look into how the teams core players will operate in the coming season.
Tipoff: 6AM EST | TV: Sportsnet
Projected Lineup (Raptors)
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Cameron Payne, Isaiah Taylor
SG: Norman Powell, Patrick McCaw, Terence Davis II, Matt Thomas
SF: OG Anunoby, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Stanley Johnson, Malcolm Miller, Oshae Brissett,
PF: Pascal Siakam, Dewan Hernandez, Devin Robinson, Sagaba Konate
C: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Chris Boucher
Projected Lineup (Rockets)
PG: Russell Westbrook, Austin Rivers, Gary Clark, Michael Frazier
SG: James Harden, Ben McLemore, Shamorie Ponds, Chris Clemons
SF: Eric Gordon, Gerald Green, Thabo Sefolosha, Daniel House Jr.
PF: PJ Tucker, Nene, Jaron Blossomgame, Ryan Anderson, Anthony Bennett
C: Clint Capela, Tyson Chandler, Isaiah Hartenstein
This should be fun.
Have a blessed day.