A few years ago, the places that were nightmares for the Rockets could be counted on one hand: Dallas, Philadelphia, Washington, and Toronto.
Houston always lost in those places. Even if the Rockets were the much better teams, you could count on them to lose. And really, only Dallas had good teams during those stretches.
But little by little, the Rockets started at least winning a game or so in those buildings. Last year they finally broke the Dallas curse that had dated back to 2009. This season they won in Philly after losing there last year to the ever-tanking Sixers. Over the last two years, the Rockets have won games in the Verizon Center in DC.
But Toronto...Toronto is still a haunted place.
The Air Canada Centre (or Center; or Centaur while we're at it) has hosted some all-time great Rockets teams and mostly some not-so-great Raptors squads. And it spit Houston out every time. Whether it was the brutal noon start times or the inevitable back-to-back (oh hey that's tonight!), Houston has lost every time to the Raptors in the Great North since 2007.
Granted, West-East road games are one shot affairs. You only get one chance out of 82 games to win a road game in Toronto and if things don't go right you could be looking at a long plane ride home.
Tonight will be a back-to-back for the Rockets, who are trying desperately to hold onto the 2 seed in the Western Conference standings. That's a tough ask with the schedule that Houston has remaining and due to the injuries that Houston has accrued. What's more, the Rockets will give Dwight Howard the night off as his minutes restriction includes not playing Dwight on back-to-backs. Basically, expect the Rockets to um...not win this game.
Tip off is at 6:30pm CST.
Point Guard: Propeller Plane vs. Kyle Lowry
Lowry has missed the last two Raptors games with back spasms. If he can't go, General Greivis will take the starting responsibility.
The Rockets chasing Lowry last offseason is still one of the craziest moves that Houston tried to pull off. If you think about it, Morey knew he was going to chase Bosh the whole time, but he also knew that if he didn't get Bosh, he still was going to trade Jeremy Lin and therefore needed a point guard. Honestly I don't know how he felt about Beverley at the time but you could certainly say that Morey looked at his point guard position last year and found it wanting. Then he went out and drafted a player who could play point guard (Nick Johnson) and now he's apparently trying to bring over Sergio Llull (for real this time).
So let's just say that I'm a little hesitant to believe that Morey has been planning on extending Patrick Beverley.
Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan is coming off maybe his worst game of the season, an outing of 6 points on 1-10 shooting against the Lakers. Look for him to try to get going early and often with Lowry potentially sidelined again. He had 20 or more in his previous 7 games and is averaging 23 points per game in March.
One of the underrated aspects of DeRozan's game is his ability to get to the free throw line. He gets to the line 7 times per ballgame and shoots around 83%. He's taken double-digit free throws six times this month. For a Rockets team that has been giving away free throws like candy on Halloween, the sight of DeRozan at the line could become a familiar sight.
Meanwhile, James Harden will have to bounce back from a relatively cold game in Washington and try to warm up in the frigid Canada weather. Yes I know it's spring but the metaphor only works because Canada is cold so just go with it, okay?
Small Forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Terrence Ross
Never forget that Terrence Ross has a better career high than James Harden. In fewer games too! Maybe we should trade Harden for Ross. I mean, 51>50 right?
Ross has been shooting 35% from 3 in his last five games and clearly has the ability to score in bunches if Houston allows him to get going.
Power Forward: Josh Smith vs. Amir Johnson
Two ex-Pistons who left Detroit in disgrace.
One is Josh Smith. The same Smith that has been carrying-yes carrying-the Rockets' offense for stretches when James Harden is on the bench.
The other is...oh Johnson didn't leave in disgrace?
Oh well then. Just carry on.
Center: Joey Dorsey vs. Jonas Valanciunas
Assuming Lowry doesn't play, the Raptors have two clear and huge advantages tonight: their interior game and their bench. The Rockets sans Dwight beat the Raptors earlier this year but they got a 12/11 game from Donatas Motiejunas and 11/9/3 with an unconscious +28 from Terrence Jones in that game. As you may have heard, neither of those players will be at the game on Monday night.
Meanwhile, the Raptors played without Lou Williams in that matchup. What's more, the Raptors will be able to call upon bigs in the form of Hansbrough, James Johnson, and Patrick Patterson off the bench. The Rockets will able to call upon...Clint Capela. So...yeah.
Rockets: Corey Brewer, Pablo Prigioni, Nick Johnson, Clint Capela
Raptors: Greivis Vasquez, Tyler Hansbrough, James Johnson, Patrick Patterson, Lou Williams
Prediction: Canada Curse continues.
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