After what seemed to be a commanding start to the season for the Raptors, the road trip from hell has slowly brought the team back down to earth. Yes, the Raptors are good and yes they should finish in a top four seed in the East this season, but they do have their flaws and this road trip has been a friendly reminder to the Raps that they have quite a few things to work out.
After finishing 11th in team defensive rating just a season ago, the Raptors have digressed in this department and currently sit 24th in the league-- worse than their opponents tonight in the Houston Rockets, who are notorious for their lack of defensive focus and execution. The Raptors will have to fix this problem and fix it quickly, as Houston has been the third best offense this season, averaging 112 points per 100 possessions. The Rockets rely on a quick transitional game in which they can spot open shooters early in the shot clock and let the three ball fly, so the Raptors must be on their toes and be ready for this barrage of perimeter play.
James Harden has been a force for the Rockets this season, as he and ex-teammate Russell Westbrook seem to be on similar missions to establish their alpha-male dominance within their respective organizations. Put simply, Harden has been an even better version of himself since being moved to the point-guard position, in which he is currently averaging 28.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and 12.4 assists! Harden averaged 29 points and just 7.5 assists per game a season ago while actually averaging 38.1 minutes compared to just 36 this season. To put this in perspective, he has managed to remain the same effective scorer while also getting his teammates substantially more involved and is doing it with less court time- incredible.
We know everything will be just fine, but the more these losses pile up, the more it seems like things are going horribly wrong. This is your official reassurance-- things are just fine. Teams are going to go through slumps and I think we can all agree that we would rather see the Raptors drop a few tough games to the Clippers, Cavs and Warriors than blow a home stand against the Nets, Bucks and Sixers, right? If the ladder happens however, I will be back with a less optimistic piece for you all-- but you get my point.
November has been a whirlwind-- from pretentious "beef" between Drake and Durant, to horrid officiating in Cleveland, to BeBe Nogueira swatting away crunch-time Carmelo, to DeMar being the second coming of Jordan (it was fun while it lasted), to starting rookies in big games, to Terrence Ross game-winning threes, to Terrence Ross game-losing three's, it's never been a dull moment and the Raptors are one big win away from getting back on track. So why not tonight!?
Enjoy the game folks and be sure to check in with another informative preview from our man Russell Peddle!