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Houston Rockets vs. Toronto Raptors game preview

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NBA: Toronto Raptors at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Raise your hand if you predicted before the season that the Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors would be in first place in their conferences on March 9.

Put your hand down, liar.

There are only three teams left that Houston has not beaten. All three teams are in the Eastern Conference, which makes sense since you only get two shots at teams from the other conference. Tonight, Houston gets their second and only remaining shot at defeating the team north of the border. It won’t be easy.

The Raptors, as mentioned, are first in the Eastern Conference and two games ahead of the Boston Celtics for homecourt through at least the first three rounds of the playoffs. That’s a terrifying proposition, since the Raps are 27-5 at the Air Canada Centre, good for best in the NBA.

Toronto is fourth overall in offensive efficiency and third in defensive efficiency. That’s...super elite. Houston is second and eighth, respectively. Additionally, Toronto is fourth in turnover rate, fifth in effective field goal percentage, fifth in true shooting, and their bench is the best in the league. They’re 15-2 in their last 17 games. They handed Houston their worst home loss of the season. They haven’t been beaten by double digits since December.

The Raptors are REALLY good, and it sucks that they haven’t received enough attention. But this team is absolutely for real. They have the star power in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. They have the steady veterans in Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas, and C.J. Miles. And they have the young role players/x-factors in Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, Delon Wright, and Jakob Poeltl. And they’ve had the most important thing that every contender needs: health. Among players averaging 16+ minutes for the Raps, the most games missed in that group has been Wright’s 12 missed contests. This isn’t a knock on them or anything. Even the best teams need a little luck.

For Houston, they’ll be missing Ryan Anderson and Brandan Wright. Joe Johnson is probable with an illness and Clint Capela is probable with a sore right calf.

Tip-off is at 6:30pm CT