I never in a million years would have guessed that the Raptors would have pulled out a win against the Dallas Maverick without their two leading scorers, but sure enough Toronto's defense rose to the occasion and played the hard nosed defensive basketball that I had come accustomed to watching last-year.
While the Raptors have had an abysmal December, the Houston Rockets, today's opponent, have had a streaky one, wining the first two games of the month, then dropping three in a row. Now, fresh off of back-to-back wins against the Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics respectively, they will tip off against a Raptors team that held the Mavericks to under 80 points.
Coming off of their best defensive effort of the year, the Raptors will need to repeat that performance if they hope to beat Houston's offensive juggernaut, as Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin, Patrick Patterson and James Harden are all competent scorers. Ed Davis, who many predicted to have a big game against the Mavs, was fairly quiet, putting up six points and wight blocks, but I expect him to play a large role tonight (if the Raptors do in fact pull out the win) as he will have to step up offensively for the club.
On a side not, I feel like it needs to be said that the last time Linsanity infected the Air Canada Centre, the New York Knicks won on Jeremey Lin's game winning, and heart-breaking, three pointer with time expiring.
Anyways, here are the 3 keys for tonight's matchup
Keep Harden and Lin in Check: Now I know that the Rockets have a solid frontcourt in Asik, Patrick Patterson and Chandler Parsons but I honestly do believe that the combination of Valanciunas, Davis and Amir Johnson can keep them in check if the Dinos can neutralize Houston's backcourt. Back in November, the last time that these two teams faced-off, the duo combined for devastating 40 points and 22 assists as the Rockets cruised to a 117-101 home win over the Toronto. With Kyle Lowry still out, Toronto's backcourt will have a ton of pressure trying to guard Harden, who is averaging 25.5 points in December, whereas Lin has been hit or miss all season. Regardless, Jose Calderon, Mikael Pietrus, John Lucas, Terrence Ross and Alan Anderson will all have to be up to guarding the two newest Rockets, but if they can play like they did against O.J. Mayo and the Mavericks on Friday, a win is not as farfetched as some people may think.
Score Points: No thanks to their porous offence, the Raptors pulled out a well-deserved win against the Maverick on Friday night but unlike against Dallas the Dinos will have to put up over 100 points against the Rockets if they hope to pull off a second consecutive upset. For me, that was the most frustrating part of Friday's game as the Dinos were only able to muster 95 points against a team that gives up over 101 points per game. Now I understand that offensemight be hard to come by without both Lowry and *gulp* Andrea Bargnani, but I do believe that DeMar DeRozan has the potential to put up big numbers in their absence and lead whatever remains of Toronto's offense. With that being said, Houston does have the league's worst defense (averaging 104.1 points per game), but they do herald the league's third best offense. If the Raptors can play smart, select their shots carefully and milk the clock during their possessions, the Raptors could make a game out of this one.
Control the Glass: One of the reasons why the Rockets have one of the league's best offenses is because they average nearly 45 rebounds per game. Led by the surprisingly effective Omer Asik, Ed Davis and Amir Johnson are going to have to do their best to limit Houston's second chance baskets. It's one of the oldest basketball clichés, but the team that controls the glass generally wins the game, and if the Dinos can do this they should be in good shape to do just that.