Game Preview: Houston Rockets vs Toronto Raptors

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The Houston Rockets squeaked out of Detroit with a narrow victory (moving to 9-5 on the season) before heading home to play the Raptors. The Rockets are led in points and assists by James Harden, who is averaging 28.6 points and 12.4 assists per game, and in rebounds by Clint Capela (8.8 per game). After Monday's game, the Rockets rank 4th in offensive rating, 20th in defensive rating, and 9th in net rating.

After starting the season 7-2, the Toronto Raptors have dropped 4 of their last 5 games, falling to 8-6 which is below expectations for them following their 50 win season and trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Raptors are led in scoring by DeMar Derozan (30.3 points per game), assists by Kyle Lowry (7.2 assists per game), and in rebounding by Jonas Valanciunas (9.9 boards per game). The Raptors rank 3rd, just one point above the Rockets, in offensive rating, 23rd in defensive rating, and 8th in net rating, just .1 points per 100 possessions ahead of the Rockets.

Starting Lineups

The Rockets are all healthy going into Wednesday's game, so nothing is likely to change for them. The Rockets are likely to start with James Harden at point guard, Patrick Beverley at shooting guard, Trevor Ariza at small forward, Ryan Anderson at power forward, and Clint Capela at center, with Eric Gordon getting starter’s minutes.

With newly acquired starter Jared Sullinger sidelined a few months due to a foot surgery, the Raptors have not been able to play with their projected starting lineup. The Raptors’ starters will likely be Kyle Lowry at point guard, DeMar DeRozen at shooting guard, DeMarre Carroll at small forward, rookie, Pascal Slakam at power forward (to replace Sullinger), and Jonas Valanciunas at center, with Patrick Patterson playing 30 minutes a game at power forward.

Three Things to Watch

  • DeMar DeRegression to the mean- The largest factor in the Raptors beginning to struggle is DeMar DeRozen coming back to earth after his scorching hot start to the season, with his true shooting percentage dropping from 60.6% to 50.5% and scoring five less points per game, after the first nine games. It has become apparent that the Raptors go as DeMar goes so watch to see if the Rockets can keep DeRozen from getting back to the level of play we saw earlier in the season.

  • Top 10 test- The Rockets have played five games against teams in the top ten in net rating, going 2-3 (losing to the Spurs, Cavaliers, and Hawks), and beating the Spurs and Jazz. Watch to see if the Rockets can even the score against the other top ten teams.

  • Harden in a slump?- Through the first 10 games, James Harden averaged 30.3 points, 12.5 assists, and 7.9 rebounds per game on 65% true shooting, in the four games since, James Harden has averaged 24.5 points, 12 assists, and 7.5 rebounds per game on 52% true shooting. Despite the drop off in individual  production, the Rockets have managed to succeed, winning four of those five games, but the sooner Harden finds his groove again, the better. Watch to see if Harden can get back to being the top flight scorer we are accustomed to.

Prediction and Tip-Off

With the Raptors slumping, having lost 4 of their last five, and the Rockets surging, having won 4 of their last 5, I expect the Rockets, at home, to be able to beat a good Raptors team.

Tip-off will be at 7:00 P.M. Central Time at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas on Wednesday, November 23rd. The game will be televised on ROOT Sports with the radio broadcast on Sports Talk 790-AM.

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