Coming off of another disappointing loss to the Chicago Bulls last night (108-100), the turbulent Houston Rockets will be desperate to get back on track tonight against the Toronto Raptors. It has been a tough season for the Rockets, marred by a petulant star, defensive inconsistency and coaching turnover. Basically, nothing has gone right for last year's second seed in the Western Conference, who currently sit at 30-32.
The Rockets revolve around James Harden, who is still one of the NBA's best scorers. Unfortunately, his attitude has torn the team apart, leading allegedly to the firing of Kevin McHale. Harden's relationship with veteran centre Dwight Howard has also disintegrated past the point of no return. The two, who should rightfully be leading the team to victory like they did last year, don't communicate on the court, leading to frequent blunders and mid-play whining.
With Harden in the game, the Rockets will never have a problem scoring the basketball. The team is fifth league-wide in points per game, bolstered by Harden's 28.8 points per game. Conversely, the bearded star is not a defensive stalwart. For that matter, neither is the rest of his team. The Rockets are 26th in opponent points per game, indicative of a lack of effort on that side of the floor. Against the Raptors, they will need to find that missing effort.
The Raps have been on fire recently, winning 12 consecutive games at home. Terrence Ross has emerged as a go-to option off the bench, offering a much-improved offensive effort to match his athletic gifts. And, as always, guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have led the way both in terms of steady production and attitude.
For maybe the first time in franchise history, the Raptors are playing like they think they are the best team in the league. From the moment the ball is tipped off, they act like winners, expecting to beat even the toughest competition. They have earned their confidence, sitting second in the Eastern Conference, just 2.5 games back of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
For the Raptors, tonight is all about containing Harden. If he can be held back, they will have a great chance to win. DeRozan, Ross and Cory Joseph will be the men counted on to defend him, and each stands a chance, though The Beard is an extremely crafty scorer. On the offensive end, the Raptors shouldn't have any problems lighting up the Rockets for a big total. In particular, DeRozan has a chance to go off against soft coverage from Harden.
Where to Watch: Sportsnet at 6:30 EST