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Five thoughts on this morning: Raptors 134, Rockets 129

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The Champs are here! The Champs are here! The Raptors were finally back in action — in Japan! — and held off the Rockets in their preseason opener.

NBA Preseaon Five thoughts recap: Toronto Raptors 134, Houston Rockets 129 Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Boy, it feels good to be back, doesn’t it?

Sure, not having to get up before dawn to experience the Toronto Raptors preseason opener would have been preferred. And an easy win (or heck, even a blowout loss), rather than a double-digit comeback and tight final five minutes, might have made my job a little easier (and allowed me to doze a bit in the second half, maybe). But hey! Raptors basketball is back!

And naturally, so are the thoughts. Let’s dive in!

Will Hearing “Defending NBA Champion Toronto Raptors” Ever Get Tired?

No.

That’s it, that’s the thought.

Oh, but how about the championship patch on the back of the jersey collar?

I love it, Doug. I absolutely love it.

Norm’s Time to Shine

Norman Powell got the start at the two-guard, and although he wasn’t overly involved in the offense early, he didn’t try and do too much or force anything, which is the bad habit he usually displays. Instead, he let the game come to him, waited for his opportunities and made the most of them. He ended up with 14 points in the first half, on 9 shots.

I was disappointed to see Powell benched for Patrick McCaw to start the second half. I know it’s the preseason and guys will be coming in and out of the rotation and getting a look, especially since the Raptors have a ton of wings. The good news for Norm is that none of Stanley Johnson, Cameron Payne or Patrick McCaw really took advantage of those second-half minutes (though Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had some moments). If Powell has more of that solid first-half play up his sleeve for the rest of the preseason, the starting off-guard job is probably his to live.

Rookies in the Rotation

Speaking of wings, Nick Nurse gave early minutes to Terence Davis III (playing backup PG, with Kyle Lowry out) and Matt Thomas, and both looked like they belong out there. Davis looked solid running the offense, and was aggressive on both sides of the floor (perhaps a tad too much so on D, as he fouled both Harden and Westbrook on three-pointers in the first half). In the second half Davis found Chris Boucher in space for a dunk, and opened the fourth by delivering an absolute facial on Jaron Blossomgame.

As for Thomas, he wasted no time jacking up shots; I love how fearless he is, just willing to let it rip. He didn’t shoot a high percentage but the Raptors will need that kind of gunning. And his stroke is as smooth as promised. If his defense isn’t completely terrible and he can keep up with the speed of the NBA game, Nick Nurse will find a way to get him minutes, I’m sure.

VanVleet Dropping Dimes in Traffic

In Fred VanVleet’s player preview, I mentioned that VanVleet needed to work on his passing/vision out of pick-and-rolls and in traffic. Perhaps he did, because he was finding guys (mainly Serge Ibaka) on pocket passes going to the hoop all night (uh, morning). VanVleet did a good job finishing in traffic himself too; he finished with 16 points and five assists.

I think contract year Fred VanVleet is gonna be fun.

Speaking of fun...

Pascal Siakam Just Keeps Getting Better

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at this point, but seeing how Pascal Siakam continues to evolve is amazing. He showed it all last night, inside, outside, ball-handling... his defense was a step slow but we can cut him some slack there, especially since he is pretty much the number one option on offense. In the first he had a gorgeous reverse spin move against P.J. Tucker, one of the strongest dudes out there, and got the and-1; he got another on Ryan Anderson a few plays later. He also did this:

He finished the game with 24 points (on 16 shots), 11 rebounds and four assists. In 27 minutes!

Aften winning the NBA title and the Most Improved Player award, Siakam could have eased his way into the season — nobody would have blamed him. But he doesn’t look like he’s missed a single step since Game 6.

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This game went like many a preseason game does — little defense, weird rotations, goofy runs and plenty of “wait, that guy is on this team?!” moments (hi, Ben McLemore!). Ultimately, it was an entertaining game — a rarity for the preseason — and the 17-point comeback was fun to see. For the Raptors, the real takeaway here is that Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam look ready to go, and amongst the glut of wings, the rookie Terence Davis was the standout.

Let’s do it again Thursday!