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3 in the Key- Raptors' Game-Day Preview vs. Rockets

Linas Kleiza and the rest of the Raptor bench will need to be big in order to get a victory against the Rockets tonight at the ACC. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-US PRESSWIRE
Linas Kleiza and the rest of the Raptor bench will need to be big in order to get a victory against the Rockets tonight at the ACC. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-US PRESSWIRE

These two teams faced off just over a week ago with the Houston Rockets pulling out a three-point victory. Can the Raptors come away with the win this time around? the HQ's Scott Campsall tells you why the Raptors may actually have the advantage in this game, and of course, also has your three keys to a Raptors victory.

Tonight marks the final night of a four-game homestand for the Toronto Raptors as they prepare to take on the Houston Rockets just one week after narrowly being defeated by those very same Rockets in Houston.

Since that loss the Raptors are two and two, with both losses coming by a combined five points. Needles to say, the Raptors have been playing well as of late, and with the home court advantage, may have the upper hand this time around against the Rockets.

The Rockets, on the other hand, will enter play tonight having lost five straight games since their victory over the Raptors. The most recent loss came in heartbreaking fashion, losing on the road to the Boston Celtics in overtime last night. Given their recent struggles, the Rockets should be desperate for a win, yet it will be interesting to see how much gas they have left in the tank after playing that extra frame in Boston.

With that in mind I will now turn your attention to the three most important tasks the Raptors must complete if they hope to pick up the victory tonight against the Houston Rockets:

1) Contain Kyle Lowry: This was a key last time out and will continue to be one each time the Raptors play the Rockets; that is, until they can prove that they have any answer for Kyle Lowry's explosive offensive game.

In the previous meeting between these two teams Kyle Lowry had an impressive game, finishing with 26 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds. Lowry's impressive shooting and ability to get to the bucket powered the Houston offense all night long and was ultimately the reason they were able to pull out the victory.

If the Raptors can somehow stifle his game, perhaps by defending him with some combination of James Johnson and Jerryd Bayless, then the Rockets will be left with few other offensive options. If the Raps are able to accomplish this, then they may be able to shut down Houston's offensive attack as a whole.

2) Big Bench Effort: Another key for the Raptors during their impressive stretch of games since the All-Star break has been the extra lift they have gotten from their bench.

Key contributors like Barbosa, Kleiza and Ed Davis have played extremely well and have given the team much needed help against opposing clubs' second units; this was especially true against the Rockets in Houston last Tuesday.

In that game the Raptors held a 31-17 bench scoring advantage thanks to a double figure outing by Leandro Barbosa and some good supporting minutes from Linas Kleiza, Jerryd Bayless and Ed Davis. The Rockets may have the more impressive starting lineup; however their bench is a definite weakness of theirs, and is one that the Dinos will need to exploit during tonight's tilt.

3) Pound the Rock: This has become a bit of a cliché, but with the way the Raptors have been playing of late, it seems appropriate.

Since the All-Star break Dwayne Casey has his team playing with renewed intensity, and with extra effort on both ends of the floor. It is because of this extra effort that the Dinos have been able to compete with teams like the Magic, Grizzlies, and Rockets that I think we can all agree, are of a higher caliber talent wise, than the Raptors.

Casey's mantra of Pounding the Rock seems to be working, as it is exactly what the Raps have been doing of late--grinding out wins and competitive losses in games in which they otherwise wouldn't have been in. Should the Raps continue this extra effort tonight against the Rockets, there is no reason to think that they cannot pull off their third win in five games since the break.