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Preview: Rockets at Raptors

Setting the scene for Houston's matchup with the Toronto Raptors

TORONTO - Setting the scene for Houston’s matchup with the Toronto Raptors:

The Basics:

Houston Rockets (49-24) at Toronto Raptors (42-32)

Point Differential:

Toronto: +3.1 (NBA rank: T-9th)

Houston: +4.9 (NBA rank: T-5th)

Offensive Rating (points per 100 possessions):

Toronto: 105.2 (10th)

Houston: 108.3 (T-5th)

Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions):

Toronto: 101.8 (7th)

Houston: 102.5 (10th)

Pace (number of possessions per 48 minutes):

Toronto: 94.32 (24th)

Houston: 98.39 (5th)

Four Factors:

Shooting – Effective field goal percentage (eFG% is a field goal percentage that’s adjusted for made 3-pointers being 1.5 times more valuable than a 2-point shot):

Toronto: 49.5% (T-16th)

Houston: 53.3% (3rd)

Turnovers – Turnover ratio (the number of turnovers a team averages per 100 possessions):

Toronto: 14.9 (T-9th)

Houston: 16.6 (T-29th)

Rebounding – Rebound percentage (the percentage of total rebounds obtained)

Toronto: 51.0% (10th); offensive rebound rate: 27.3% (T-10th); defensive rebound rate: 75.0% (T-12th)

Houston: 52.1% (T-3rd); offensive rebound rate: 27.6% (5th); defensive rebound rate: 73.6% (T-21st)

Free Throws – Free throw rate (the rate at which a team goes to the line relative to the number of field goals it attempts):

Toronto: .301 (8th)

Houston: .388 (1st)

The Rockets experienced the end of a long streak yesterday and though that particular occurrence was not at all pleasant, it’s safe to say they’d love nothing more than to bear firsthand witness to the fall of another prolonged run tonight.

Last night of course saw the snapping of Houston’s 14-game winning streak over the Nets as the shorthanded Rockets could not muster the kind of effort necessary to bring down Brooklyn for a 15th consecutive time. This evening, however, sees the tables turned as this time it is Houston representing the club that has been on the losing side of the matchup – at least when the games between the Rockets and Raptors have been played north of the 49th parallel, that is. Simply put, the Air Canada Centre has been nothing less than a house of horrors for Houston over the course of the last half-decade, with the Rockets having dropped six straight in Toronto by an average of approximately 14 points per contest (13.7 to be precise).

Appropriately enough, then, Houston enters this evening’s game under less than ideal circumstances, having arrived at the team hotel around 3 A.M. this morning with a bevy of banged up and sickly players in tow. Welcome to the glamorous grind that is life in the NBA. The pewter lining to all of this: at least the postseason is still a few weeks away.

This is a no excuses league, however, and it’s not as if the Raptors don’t have considerable worries of their own. Currently at the top of that list is the status of Kyle Lowry, who is being listed as a game-time decision after he was forced from Toronto’s matchup against Miami Monday following a knee-to-knee collision with LeBron James. Rockets fans surely require no refresher course when it comes to Lowry’s dynamic impact on both ends of the floor, but here’s a helpful hint for the uninitiated: In terms of Win Shares, Lowry ranks 8th in the entire league, per Basketball-Reference.com – just barely behind a certain All-Star by the name of James Harden.

It goes without saying, then, that both teams will have to dig deep in order to emerge victorious tonight, which is how it should be this time of year. With the playoffs right around the corner, lessons in how to handle adversity are more valuable than ever. Ideal circumstances tend to be the exception rather than the rule once the postseason rolls around. Tonight’s contest is a test, and a tough one at that. But while it’s not make or break, a passing grade would certainly seem to bode well when the final exams do eventually arrive.

Know Thy Enemy

- If Kyle Lowry is not able to play tonight, Greivis Vasquez will step into the spotlight and assume the reins of the Raptors’ offense. The 27-year-old is a solid player in his own right and has played very well for Toronto since arriving from Sacramento as part of the Rudy Gay trade. He’s a crafty pick-and-roll player, has excellent size for the position, and has been a part of some very effective lineup combinations for the Raptors.

He doesn’t possess anywhere near the quickness of Lowry, however, nor does he offer anything close to the kind of shooting Toronto’s bowling ball point guard brings to the table on a nightly basis. Synergy places Lowry in the 97th percentile in catch-and-shoot situations due in large part to the fact that he has connected on 45 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s this season. Vasquez, meanwhile, resides in just the 32nd percentile in terms of spot-ups, having connected on 36 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. That’s not a bad mark, by the way, but it’s certainly not the kind of number that represents the lethal threat Lowry poses.

- DeMar DeRozan’s steady rise has continued this season, with the fifth-year guard from USC maintaining an upward trajectory that ultimately earned him a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star squad. The 24-year-old still isn’t much of a threat from beyond the arc, but the other aspects of his game have come a long way as seen by the fact that he’s well on his way to recording career-highs in scoring, usage rate, assist rate and overall efficiency. He’s made big gains as a pick-and-roll playmaker and can be absolutely deadly on dribble hand-offs.

The biggest key to his game, however, is his near Harden-esque ability to get to the free throw line. Per Synergy, DeRozan has earned free throws on more than 17 percent of his isolations this season; a number that stacks up well when compared to Houston's superstar, who has gone to the charity stripe more than 19 percent of the time in such situations. And for what it’s worth, both All-Star two-guards went to the line 11 times during Houston’s 110-104 double-OT win over the Raptors back in November.

- The Rockets will require a team-wide effort to keep Toronto off the offensive glass tonight. The Raptors rank in the NBA’s top-5 in terms of pace-adjusted second chance points scored per game due to the fact they boast a horde of players (Tyler Hansbrough, Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson and Chuck Hayes) capable of collecting offensive boards in bunches. 

And though Toronto is just 29th in the league in field goal attempts per game from the restricted area, the Nets came into last night’s contest ranked dead last in that category and still outscored Houston by a 50-42 margin in the paint. Omer Asik is one heck of a security blanket to have when it comes to protecting the basket and cleaning the glass, but his teammates can’t allow him to simply be a one-man army down there tonight.

- The Raptors are not at all a run-and-gun team – Toronto is bottom-5 in the league in terms of pace-adjusted fast break points per game – but they are exceedingly dangerous when they break out in transition. Synergy ranks Toronto sixth in the NBA on a points per possession basis in that category and it’s not difficult to discern why. Their bigs, especially Amir Johnson, run the floor well, DeRozan is dangerous on leak-outs and Terrence Ross can either finish at the rim with an extraordinary amount of flourish or find holes in the defense beyond the arc, unleashing his proficient marksmanship at knocking down spot-up 3s (he’s drained 42 percent of his catch-and-shoot triples this season). The Rockets may well be road weary, but they can’t allow mental of physical fatigue to adversely affect their attentiveness when the Raptors push the pace. 

In the spotlight

James Harden has led the Rockets in points and assists in each of Houston’s last five games while having scored at least 25 points in each of his last six contests. His has been a heavy burden to shoulder of late, especially given the recent absences of fellow All-Star Dwight Howard. That load does not figure to be any lighter tonight.

Injury Update

Pat Beverley (right knee sprain) and Greg Smith (arthroscopic right knee procedure) are out. Dwight Howard (left ankle strain) is day-to-day. Terrence Jones (flu-like symptoms) is a game-time decision.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com except where otherwise noted.