With the NBA's All Star Weekend festivities over the attention now turns back to competitive basketball. The Raptors head into Houston for a game against an always-tricky Houston team. The HQ's Sasha Kalra previews the action...With no participants, All Star weekend came and went for most Raptors fans as we now enter a critical point in the season. Instead of challenging for playoff spots our new hobby becomes something along the lines of evaluating our talent and preparing for a busy summer.
The team is embarking on a little two-game road trip to the Southwest Division to play the Houston Rockets tonight and New Orleans tomorrow. The Rockets are always tricky customers and despite their apparent lack of an alpha-dog, sit in 6th place out West with a very impressive record of 20-14.
Many fans didn't know the direction that the Rockets were heading in at the beginning of the year. They barely missed the playoffs last season and fired the widely-respected Rick Adelman. Kevin McHale ended up getting the coaching gig and his hiring was a move that didn't make sense to many. The Rockets are loaded with a glut of young post players and McHale is one of the all-time great Power Forwards but he hadn't been on the sidelines since his last stint with an awful Minnesota Timberwolves team.
The Dino's will have their hands full and here are three keys they should keep in mind if they plan on leaving Texas with a W:
1) Kyle Lowry: Kyle Lowry finished off last season on a very strong note as he took Aaron Brooks' job as the team's starting Point Guard. He played very well this year and is making a strong case to be amongst the favourites for the NBA's Most Improved Player award (Although I can see someone else Linning that one). He is averaging approximately 16 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds a game. He has also shown an ability to shut down opposing guards and Jose Calderon will have to be wary on both ends tonight.
2) Smart Fouls: The Houston Rockets are one of the best free throw shooting teams in the association this year. As a team they shoot 78.6% from the line, good enough for 3rd overall. They like to attack the rim and generate offense from the line and it will be up to the Dino's big men to foul intelligently and keep the Rockets off the line.
3) Quick Start/Team Effort: After watching most of the team's games this year it has become clear that they are sometimes dreadful at the beginning of a game. Most of their losses have coincided with slow 1st quarters and in order to scrape out a win against a hungry Rockets team tonight they will have to get off to a quick start. Another point that needs to be lumped into this key is team effort. Last time out the Dino's pulled off a great win against the Detroit Pistons on the back of a full team effort led by DeMar DeRozan. He has to set the tone early tonight and help open up lanes for his teammates to help silence the crowd at the Toyota Center