The Toronto Raptors take their talents to the Toyota Center tonight to play the always-tough Houston Rockets. A gritty road win could be just what the doctor ordered in terms of putting away their early season struggles. Can they pull it off?
The Houston Rockets have blown hot and cold this season but still represent one of the more difficult teams in the NBA. Daryl Morey has been building cap space and acquiring assets for what seems like forever and it was only a matter of time before he gave someone a maximum contract. Seriously, that money was burning a hole in his pocket. Take a moment and think about every big name free agent that was linked with but ultimately turned down a move to the Rockets. The true value of James Harden is up for debate but if you want to get some perspective than I suggest asking a Rockets fan. I doubt you’ll find someone wandering the streets of Toronto in a Cuttino Mobley jersey so the blogosphere would be the best bet.
Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik aren’t the sexiest core in the NBA but they sure are effective. Parsons in particular has emerged as a hardworking, efficient scorer and rebounder. He’s showing no signs of a sophomore slump and is the kind of player that any coach would want on his team. The Dinos got nothing out of the small forward position against the Spurs. Parsons could be in for another big game.
The Rockets haven’t played since Friday when they put up 131 points on the New York Knicks in regulation. The Toronto Raptors were last seen on Sunday, when they barely got to the "free pizza" mark against the Spurs in double overtime. Houston hasn’t been the kindest place to the Dinos in recent times and tonight shouldn’t be any different. It’s not the best place to go when in need of a win and if that is going to change here is what has to happen:
1) Backcourt Play: The Houston Rockets boast one of the league’s better backcourts. Jeremy Lin and James Harden have been a real handful for many teams to deal with. Dwayne Casey will have hopefully come up with a couple of schemes to limit their effectiveness but it’ll still be up to the Raptor guards to execute. The defensive solidity of last season seems like a distant memory. Tonight would be a good time to get things in order.
2) Asik vs JV: This matchup could very well determine the outcome of the game. Jonas Valanciunas has been steadily improving since the season started. Eric Koreen pointed this out in an article yesterday. His game still needs some polishing but it’s been encouraging to see him be somewhat of a threat offensively. He was thrown in the deep end to start his career and it’s been a pleasure watching him fight through every game. Omer Asik’s contract raised a lot of eyebrows this past summer. He is having a career year and emerging as one of the better centers in the association by averaging 10 points and 12.3 rebounds a game.
3) Which Andrea Shows Up: Advanced stats, fan opinion and conventional wisdom all point to Andrea Bargnani being a 7 foot tall J.R. Smith. Which version of Andrea Bargnani shows up could very well determine the outcome of this game. He showed flashes of efficient, consistent play against the Pistons. That all went away by the time the Spurs were in town. If you were in the crowd than you can confirm that he got the "Jamario Moon Treatment" whenever he faced up for an open shot. What’s that you say? Remember when Jamario Moon would receive a pass, look around for a bit, stare at the rim and take a somewhat hesitant jump shot? Everyone would be telling him not to shoot and cringing at the thought of that shot clunking off the back rim. There were entire sections of fans screaming "NO" at Il Mago when he looked to shoot. The difference here is that Bargnani is actually someone you want taking a wide open shot. Enough said.