If it feels like the Rockets haven’t played many of their games against the East, that’s because they haven’t. Houston has played 26 of their 38 games against the Western Conference. That still leaves 18 games left against the generally inferior competition in the East.
Tonight’s opponent is not inferior competition, though. The Toronto Raptors are solidly the 2 seed in the East and sit 3 games behind the Cavaliers in the race for the top spot. With the season series already decided in favor of the Cavs, Toronto will need to keep winning and hope for some luck if they want to catch Cleveland.
Three of the top 4 teams in the East have already beaten Houston, including a meeting between these teams in late November that the Raptors took 115-102. Houston played poorly in the first half and went into the break down 54-39. Jonas Valanciunas (15p/16r) and DeMar DeRozan (24p/9a) had big games for the Raptors, who shot 49% from the field and 52% from deep.
For Houston, it was a game to forget. James Harden finished with 29 points and 15 assists, but had 12 turnovers, as the turnover bug hit Houston for 26 giveaways. Some other interesting facts about that game include Trevor Ariza finishing with the worst +/- in the game with -16, Patrick Beverley leading the Rockets with 10 rebounds (Capela had 6), and Eric Gordon going 1-8 from deep.
The Raptors are obviously a really good team, but if Houston shoots below average from deep again and turns the ball over 26 times, they won’t beat many teams in the NBA, least of all a cohesive group like Toronto.
Houston has now played their fair share of good point guards in 2017 and that will only continue tonight with Lowry. But what makes Toronto even more dangerous to Houston is Valanciunas, who’s destined to get 20/20 tonight with Capela still out.
Finally, the Rockets have just looked tired over the past few games. The strain of losing Capela and then Beverley for a period seems to have drained this team. Poor starts have been the norm. Eric Gordon missed about 12 open 3s against Orlando, and each shot was short, likely due to tired legs. The Rockets need rest in the worst way possible.
Of course, no game in Toronto would be complete without the odd start time. Tonight’s game starts at 5pm local time for some unknown reason. Maybe it’s that stupid initiative to allow more Europeans to watch the games. Except, starting the game one hour earlier doesn’t really help our Euro friends. And why exactly do Raptors-Rockets games in Canada ALWAYS have this issue? It’s so weird.
Tip-off is at 5pm CT.