Houston Rockets @ Toronto Raptors on 3/5/19

In a recent interview on the Lowe Post podcast, Daryl Morey said about this year’s team, “We’ve got a wide range of outcomes. We feel like we will be better than last year’s team going into the playoffs.” Based on the team’s recent play, the notion isn’t totally crazy. But for those lofty expectations to come to fruition in the way Morey and the rest of Red Nation hope they will, the Rockets need to continue taking steps forward.

Enter the Toronto Raptors, who despite having posted some uneven results since the All-Star break, remain among the league’s best by most metrics. The Rockets rode huge performances from James Harden, and Kenneth Faried to get by the Raptors with the score of 121-119 earlier this season. In order to replicate that kind of result in Toronto, the Rockets will need the kind of team effort that got them wins against Boston and Golden State in the past week. Here are a couple things I’ll be looking out for.

  • In order to really achieve success this season, the Rockets will need to solve the second-half woes that have plagued them all season long. Take the last 10 games for example – the Rockets have posted a ridiculous net rating of 17.5 in the first halves of those games. The key to the Rockets success to start games has been the improvement on the defensive side of the ball, where they have posted a defensive rating of 104.8, a figure which would rank second in the league in that timespan. After the break is a totally different story. In those same 10 games, the Rockets have sported a net rating of -7.1 in the second half, with a defensive rating of 118, which would rank second to last in the league over that timeframe. They got away with another almost-collapse in Boston, but games in tougher road environments against better teams like Toronto are high-risk candidates for this troubling trend to bite the Rockets in the proverbial butt.
  • The Raptors pose matchup problems for the Rockets that are pretty uncommon outside of the league’s best defensive teams. Kawhi Leonard has had success in the past against Harden, and the Raptors’ supporting cast of Pascal Siakam, Danny Green, and Kyle Lowry are all strong defenders in their own right. One of the reasons they do so well on that side of the ball is because of the way they run teams off the 3-point line. The Raptors rank eighth in the league in opponent 3-point FGs made per game, at just 10.5 per game. Even in Houston’s late January win against Toronto, the Rockets shot a well below average 10-46 from long distance. It will be interesting to see if throwing Chris Paul into the mix will change the geometry of the court and add some floor spacing to counteract Toronto’s 3-point defense.

In the NBA, putting up a strong performance doesn’t always translate into a win, especially against teams of Toronto’s caliber. Vegas has the Raptors as 3.5 point favorites, which essentially means that the teams are equal on a neutral court. I’m taking the points. I think the Rockets play well but fall in a nail biter to a really good Raptors team.

Prediction – Rockets 109 Raptors 111

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