It’s been a rough week for the Toronto Raptors.
They lost both games of the back-to-back from hell (Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors) on Tuesday/Wednesday of last week, and had no time to catch their breath before embarking on a five-stop, 7,981-kilometre road trip spanning a week between Fridays.
Screw you, schedule makers.
The Raps may have beaten the Denver Nuggets last Friday, but since then they have gone on to lose both games of another back-to-back set, dropping contests to the Sacramento Kings (well, kind of) on Sunday and the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday.
If it feels like the Raptors haven’t been in a funk like this one in a while, it’s because they really haven’t been:
#Raptors have lost 4 of their last 5 games. They did not go 1-4 over a 5-game stretch all of last season. pic.twitter.com/FnloH2jf9t— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) November 22, 2016
The “schedule losses” are piling up, but the best way to cure the blues associated with a tough schedule, questionable refereeing, and losing four out of five games is to get back into the win column. The Raptors will attempt to do exactly that tonight when they take on the Houston Rockets (9-5).
Here are a few things to keep an eye on:
The Houston Rockets are fourth in the NBA in offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) at 108.8, while the Raptors are third at 109.8.
On the defensive end, on the other hand, both teams are struggling. The Rockets are currently ranked 19th in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) at 105.2, while the Raptors have slipped all the way down to 23rd at 106.1.
Two of the best offensive teams in the league, each going up against a bottom-half defence? Yeah, this one should be a barnburner.
The James Harden Show
James Harden is having a monster year for the Rockets, averaging 28.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 12.4 assists, 1.2 steals, and 0.3 blocks per contest, while shooting 46.0% from the field, 36.5% from deep, and 81.0% from the free throw line.
He’s thriving under new Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni as the team’s de facto point guard and might actually have a legitimate chance to lead the NBA in both points (currently fourth in the Association) and assists (first) per game in the same season. If he pulls that off, he’d be the first accomplish that feat since Nate “Tiny” Archibald did it in 1972-73.
Harden’s stats are nearly identical in wins and losses, so the Raptors will have to accept that he’s going to get his (and Raps fans might as well enjoy the spectacle). Their key to winning will instead be in containing Houston’s supporting cast.
The Rockets shoot more three-pointers than any other team in the league, attempting a whopping 35.8 triples per contest. The Raptors, by contrast, are 23rd in the NBA in three-point attempts per game with 22.9.
Don’t think that Houston is a team that relies solely on volume from long range, though, as they are also one of the most accurate teams from deep in the Association, currently ranking fifth in three-point percentage at 37.1%.
For a team that relies so heavily on three-pointers, it should come as no surprise that there is a big discrepancy between Houston’s long-range accuracy in wins versus losses. The Rockets have shot 39.7% from beyond the arc in their nine victories, as opposed to 33.2% over their five losses. If the Raptors want to win this game, they’ll have to find a way to limit Houston’s effectiveness from three-point range.
When a team is in a funk like the Raptors currently are, things can get a bit gloomy among the fanbase. Another loss here could have people hitting the panic button.
The Raptors have faced the hardest schedule of any team in the NBA this season, with a strength of schedule (SOS) rating of 1.95 on Basketball-Reference.com and a .532 opponent’s win percentage per ESPN’s RPI Rankings (tops in the league by both measures).
Throw in the fact that they were also 8-6 at this exact point last year before racking up a franchise-best 56 wins by the end of the season, and there’s plenty of reason to keep a cool head about this current rough patch.
Things will get better. Maybe that’ll start tonight.
Where to Watch: TSN, 8:00 p.m. EST