The Houston Rockets got a much-needed win against the New York Knicks on November 23, which should provide them with plenty of confidence Tuesday night. The Toronto Raptors come to town following a tough double-overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday afternoon. This extended the team's losing streak to four games.
Toronto may not be one of the NBA's elite teams, but taking the ever-dangerous Spurs that far into a game shows that they are not to be immediately written off. Houston has been inconsistent all season long, so the young Raptors will be ready to take full advantage of that, despite their record.
Keep in mind, this is a team that has only one road win on the season, but has shown marked improvement from some of its players, namely DeMar DeRozan. Kyle Lowry has been the electrifying point guard the team needs, and will do absolutely everything in his effort to help bring home the win.
It is thus all the more important that the Rockets not get cocky, just three days after their win against New York. The Raptors may not be a good team, but have more than enough tools to play spoiler.
The game may appear one-sided, but could turn anything but that in the blink of an eye.
Time: Tuesday, November 27, 8:00 p.m. EST
TV: CSN Houston, Sportsnet
Records: Toronto Raptors (3-11) vs. Houston Rockets (6-7)
Betting Lines: Toronto (+5 1/2), Houston (-5 1/2), via Bovada
Injuries: Royce White (personal, out), Cole Aldrich (ankle, doubtful), Carlos Delfino (groin, doubtful), Alan Anderson (foot, out), Landry Fields (wrist, out), Jonas Valanciunas (calf, expected to play)
Key Storyline: Was Houston's Blowout of the Knicks a Fluke or a Sign?
The Rockets' win against the New York Knicks wasn't just a mere victory, but a blowout. The team ran the run and gun perfectly en route to a 131-103 win against a team that, entering that game, was 8-2 on the season.
James Harden was the master of drawing fouls, going 16-of-16 from the charity stripe and dishing out nine assists to go with his team-high 33 points. Teammate Chandler Parsons was borderline unstoppable, scoring 31 points and sinking four three-pointers. Omer Asik continued his dominance in the paint with 18 points and 14 boards.
However, the Rockets and their flashy offense were anything but consistent prior to this game. The basketball gods just appeared to be on their side this particular night, and a three-day layoff could definitely play a role in their matchup against Toronto.
Interim coach Kelvin Sampson simply cannot allow his players to be lazy about this game. A win is practically a gimme in this case, which makes it all the more important that everyone be focused.
That isn't to say that the Rockets need to blow out the Raptors to prove that their win against the Knicks wasn't a fluke, and that the team is ready to get back on track regardless. All in all, they just need to put in a similar effort and not back down against a team that will be hungry to make a statement after a hard-fought battle against the San Antonio Spurs.
Given the Raptors' youth and lack of consistency, especially on defense, the stage is set for Houston to win and be back at .500.
Key Matchup: Jeremy Lin vs. Kyle Lowry
Omer Asik and Jonas Valanciunas' battle in the paint will surely be fun to watch, but the real battle will be at the point. Where Jeremy Lin has been largely disappointing this season, Kyle Lowry has been surprising.
The former Villanova Wildcat has simply done it all, from scoring to distributing to playing some incredible defense. In eight games, Lowry has averaged 18.3 points, 6.1 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game. He has improved his three-point shooting, making 41 percent of his attempts from long range.
Lin, on the other hand, has failed to recapture Linsanity. He is averaging just 10.2 points and 6.1 assists per game, and is shooting just 35 percent from the field. Instead of the electrifying leader he was for a short time with the New York Knicks last season, Lin has been simply average, if that at all.
Lowry will thus need to exploit Lin's struggles to the best of his abilities in this game. Be it playing lockdown defense from start to finish or forcing him to rely on his jumper, he just needs to shut the man down.
This makes it all the more important for Lin to use his team's win against the Knicks to his advantage. He only had three assists that night, but scored 13 points on 6 of 12 shooting and pulled down seven rebounds. It's not Linsanity, but still a decent night.
However, Lowry is a much better defender than the Knicks' Raymond Felton, and that's going to make this battle even more exciting to watch.
Oh, and let's not forget that he'll want to have a good game against his former team.
X-Factor: James Harden
Harden was simply brilliant against the Knicks. After a stretch of games marked by impulsive shooting and almost zero playmaking, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year was back in action as the dynamic guard that wowed NBA fans over his first two games in Houston.
Not only was Harden making his shots, but he was doing a great job at drawing contact and also creating plays for his teammates. His nine assists were the most he accumulated in one game since Houston's season opener, when he had 12.
His team will be counting on him to be the savior once again when the Raptors come to town. He is a far better player than DeRozan, giving him a great advantage in their matchup, and will look to drive the lane and create off the dribble all night long.
The fact of the matter is that Harden needs to play exactly as he did against the Knicks if the Rockets are to defeat the Raptors. Toronto is not a strong defensive team, ranking 25th in the league with 100.3 points allowed per game, and Houston must take full advantage of this. If Harden is having a bad night, that becomes more difficult.
All that Harden really has to do is pick his shots wisely. He needs to mix it up with both jump shots and driving the lane. More importantly, he cannot be hesitant to pass the ball to an open teammate.
So long as he can recapture the fire of the earliest part of the season, then Houston's chances of winning will be good.
The Toronto Raptors did indeed look good against the San Antonio Spurs, but that is anything but the norm for them. Houston has likewise struggled with consistency this season, but still has the upper hand in this matchup.
Thus, though the Toronto fans may be fired up after Sunday's performance, this is going to be another big win for the Houston Rockets.
Granted, it won't be a blowout like it was against the Knicks, but Houston will still put a lot of points on the board and play some tough defense both in and out of the paint en route to victory. Lowry may win the matchup against Lin, but Omer Asik will absolutely destroy Jonas Valanciunas on defense and have yet another double-double.
Look for Harden and Parsons to lead the way on offense again. Parsons won't be absolutely brilliant, but he'll sink the important shots and stretch the floor as needed.
Harden will have another high-scoring game and also dish out his fair share of assists. The Rockets brought him in to be their star, and he will shine bright against Toronto. For his and his teammates' efforts, the Rockets will be back at .500.
Houston Rockets 110, Toronto Raptors 97