The NBA Losers Bowl gets underway tonight with the Toronto Raptors — losers of eight straight — take on the Houston Rockets — losers of 20 straight. Yes, it has gotten to this point for the Raptors (and the Rockets). It’s been an ugly stretch of games that’s featured blowouts, heartbreakers, and distracting trade rumours. In all, Toronto simply can’t catch a break.
Rockets have lost 20 straight.— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) March 22, 2021
Raptors have lost 8 straight.
Someone's gonna get their first win in a while when Houston and Toronto face each other Monday night. pic.twitter.com/QjQEmVCDcz
Toronto’s most recent loss is still fresh, coming against the Cleveland Cavaliers in a 115-106 defeat just last night. After clearing COVID-19 and health/safety protocols just after the All-Star break, the Raptors are still making strides to be a cohesive unit on both ends of the floor. Fred VanVleet is getting his legs under him but Pascal Siakam has been struggling to regain his rhythm — especially last night. He logged 24 minutes and looked out of place on the floor. It was concerning to see that Siakam didn’t log a minute after the 4:09-minute mark of the third quarter.
Nick Nurse says Pascal Siakam is OK after the layoff. "There's a little conditioning there," but mostly he opted to stick with the group that cut the lead.— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) March 22, 2021
While Toronto looks to turn the corner on this back-to-back, there are no guarantees, even when going up against a team that has lost 20 straight — like these unfortunate Rockets.
Even with the Raptors struggling, the Rockets may still have their work cut out for them tonight too. Guards John Wall and Victor Oladipo may be resting after playing last night — they’ve been sitting out a few back-to-backs — though both are currently absent from the latest injury report. Meanwhile, if the Raptors learned anything from their own game last night, it’s that any team can win a game. They’ll have to put their best effort forward, even if half the Rockets can’t or don’t play tonight.
With that all wrapped up, let’s get to the game details followed by the three keys to the game.
Where to Watch
Sportsnet One, 9 PM ET
Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam
Houston — John Wall, Victor Oladipo, Danuel House, Jae’Sean Tate, Christian Wood
Toronto — None
Houston — Eric Gordon (out – strained groin), David Nwaba (out – strained wrist), D.J. Augustin (questionable – illness, non-COVID-19-related), Dante Exum (out – right calf strain)
Chop the Wood
In a season full of darkness for the Rockets, the one bright spot is their big man Wood. The 25-year-old was one of the more sought-out free agents in the 2020 free-agent class due to his rise in the season prior with the Detroit Pistons. Wood showcased an excellent inside-out game, capable of being a strong finisher and roller last year. That and more has translated to his game in his first season with the Rockets where he is putting up Most Improved Player of the Year numbers with 22 points on 63.6 True Shooting Percentage to go along with 10.1 rebounds per game.
For this contest, given that the Raptors have struggled to contain frontcourt players and control the glass, look for Rockets head coach Stephen Silas to get Wood very involved in the offense (especially if Wall and Oladipo don’t play). Toronto has the players to match-up fairly well with Wood, but he’s still a versatile big that can play inside and out and is a terrific roller to the rim. The Raptors will need to make their paint presence a priority and to make every catch for Wood a difficult one. In particular, Toronto should match OG’s strength against Wood’s lanky frame to limit his offensive game, which could, in turn, limit Houston’s offense as a whole.
Force Them Out
What once was a deadly three-point shooting team year-in, year-out is no more for the Rockets. With below-average shooters, Houston is dead-last in three-point shooting percentage for the season, connecting on 34.2 percent of their threes while hoisting up 40.2 per game, just behind the Raptors for fourth in the league. In their 20-game losing stretch, they’re only hitting 29.2 percent of their threes, again dead-last. As a result, the Raptors should definitely force the Rockets outside and minimize their paint touches.
However, here is the tricky part: the Raptors are allowing their opponents to hit 15.3 threes a game (third-worst in the league) on 40.1 percent shooting (fourth-worst in the league) during their eight-game losing skid. Last night in Cleveland, for example, the Raptors were also playing a fairly poor-shooting team, yet they could only watch as the Cavaliers bombed in more than their standard share of threes. They can’t exactly count on an NBA squad — even one as listless as the Rockets — to just keep missing unless they defend them hard.
End the Streak
If there was any better time for Toronto to end the streak, it should be tonight. Houston has struggled mightily on both ends it doesn’t look to improve any time soon. The Raptors should have their way tonight — but the key word there is should. This could very well be the perfect game for VanVleet and Siakam to get into a rhythm, to regain some of their lost conditioning, and see the ball go in the basket.
Through their 20-game losing streak, Houston’s defense has been bad, recording a 116.7 defensive rating, which puts them 26th in the league. They’ve also been allowing their opponents to shoot an absurd average of 49 percent from the field (second-worst in the league). Once again, this could be the game the Raptors’ offense gets back into the swing of things.
More importantly, tonight’s game will determine how the season will play out. If the Raptors lose, they will fall to 17-26 on the season and will be three games back from the 10th seed play-in spot, which the Chicago Bulls now hold. While a three game deficit with 30 games left in the schedule is not impossible to overcome, it may be the outcome that breaks the Raptors’ never-say-die emotional spirit. Can the Raptors come out with a vengeance tonight in a last ditch effort to end their losing streak, avoid any more trade deadline drama, and make a serious run?
Or, in a loss, could this be it for the Raptors?
All stats were provided by NBA.com/Stats