Coming to you live at the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo Japan, it’s Toronto’s first taste of preseason basketball! We are still hours away from the Raptors and Rockets taking the floor to open Toronto’s 2019 preseason, but it’s never too early to get excited. Especially since the first game of the Raptors’ title defense is indeed way too early.
After a summer of change for the Raptors, the team opens their preseason in Japan looking to reestablish themselves as the defending NBA champions. With Kawhi gone to Los Angeles, the Raptors have a whole bunch of new faces on the squad, all looking to give shape to a new golden year of Toronto basketball. The game tomorrow morning against Houston may not count, but it’ll be the first chance for us to really get a look at what this Raptors team could look like.
Meanwhile, the Rockets will take the floor after their own recent makeover. While the newly acquired Russell Westbrook is listed as merely probable, James Harden is set to mix it up with most of Houston’s long-time core. As for the rest of the squad, well, the injury tape tells the tale. Hype aside, this is still preseason basketball.
Now, here are your details for tomorrow morning, and three things to keep an eye on for Raptors vs. Rockets.
Where to Watch
6am(!!!) on Sportsnet
Toronto - Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Houston - Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela
Toronto - Kyle Lowry (out – thumb/rest), Marc Gasol (out – rest)
Houston - Anthony Bennett (out – knee), Tyson Chandler (out – rest), Michael Frazier (out – ankle), Gerald Green (questionable – cervical strain), Danuel House Jr. (out – leg laceration), Nenê (out – adductor); Russell Westbrook (probable – scheduled rehab)
In truth, the best reason to watch any preseason basketball — let alone a game at six in the gotdamn morning — is to see what kind of wonky-ass lineups a team will try when the games don’t count. For the Raptors, a team with a modest desire to do that anyway thanks to coach Nick Nurse, this could mean a great number of things. (But only if you’re watching closely.)
Given Kyle Lowry’s absence, it seems likely we’ll get Fred VanVleet in the starting lineup tomorrow morning. This could be something we see more of in-season, especially if Norman Powell, the presumptive starting two-guard, falters. Meanwhile, with Marc Gasol out, it feels like we’ll get Serge Ibaka in at centre, paired with Pascal Siakam. That makes sense right? Sure. Then there’s the revolving door at small forward — OG Anunoby, Stanley Johnson, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are all ready to stake a claim — and that doesn’t even account for the plethora of names coming off the bench (more on them in the next section). The Raptors could try some smaller lineups, given that the Rockets really only have Clint Capela on hand to rim run, but we’ll see. In short: this game, along with the next handful of preseason contests, may be the only opportunity to see some of what we’re about to see — come what may.
Toronto’s Newest Faces
As is customary in training camp and the preseason, the Raptors currently have a roster of 20 players. They’ll have to get that down to 15, along with a pair of two-way contracts at most, before the real games start. Obviously most of those spots have been claimed by guaranteed contracts — but not everyone on the Raptors can afford to treat these preseason games as meaninglessly as we are right now.
To employ a Drake lyric here, let’s start from the bottom. Toronto has five names that were brought in during the summer to fill out spots 16 to 20 on the roster: Cameron Payne, Isaiah Taylor, Devin Robinson, Oshae Brissett, and Sagaba Konate. There feels like a distinct chance one of Payne or Taylor could find himself on the Raptors; and it feels very possible for Brissett, born in Toronto, to take a turn in the 905. (I for one would love Konate to make it, if only to hear Herbie Kuhn give his name a try over the loud speaker.) But that’s mostly all we know.
But wait, that’s not all! The Raptors also have to decide what to do with Dewan Hernandez, their 59th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, so keep an eye on him. They’ve also got Malcolm Miller and Chris Boucher floating around too (if I had to pick one to make it I’d lean towards the latter, sadly). That’s a full-on eight names out of 20 looking for spots in the Raptors’ rotation (or just a seat on the bench). As in the previous section, these next few games may be the only chance we get to see some things — namely, some of these players — on a court in Raptors colours.
Now let’s talk about China. Yes, Tokyo, Japan is decidedly not China, but the Rockets are currently embroiled in a controversy that points to a significant problem. You likely won’t hear about it on the broadcast (because the NBA does not want to upset China anymore!), but it deserves to be written and talked about. And I suspect, as has already happened, the Rockets players will be asked about it some more (much to their chagrin, I’m sure).
The broad strokes: Houston GM Daryl Morey tweeted in support of democracy in Hong Kong, where protests have been raging that have angered the Chinese government. These demonstrations relate to changes to the city’s extradition laws in favour of mainland China, which would allow the mainland government to exert even more power than it already does. (And I’m really soft-pedalling the description of said power and how it is already exerted.) Here’s a Wiki link to provide just some HK-Mainland context. I encourage you to do your own reading to find out more (a lot more).
I could continue here, but instead I’ll just link to this piece from Slate’s Tom Scocca. Within he outlines what has happened involving the Rockets, the NBA, and China, why it is such major news, and what the league should do in response. Of course, this is the exact opposite of what they’ve already done, and what they’ll continue to do — there is, after all, a lot of money to be made here. I hate to end on such a downer note, but the Raptors are adjacent to all of this news right now and it can’t be helped. Now, on to the basketball.