Mar 30, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) drives past Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Houston 99-96. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
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Houston Rockets follow an impressive win over a top defensive squad with a game versus the team ranked just ahead of them offensively – the Toronto Raptors.
While the Houston Rockets have won 4 of their last 5 games they face a team on the opposite end of the spectrum tonight. To say the Toronto Raptors have had a tough 8 days would be putting it mildly. First they faced the toughest back-to-back you could have versus the last two NBA Champions – the Cavaliers and Warriors. They played their third game in 4 days in the high altitude of Denver. After just one day off Toronto then played another back-to-back versus Sacramento and the Clippers.
This means the Raptors played the top three teams in the NBA in 7 days. Further two of those games came on the back end of consecutive nights with their opponent rested. Yet, this wasn’t even the worst situation Toronto faced. Sunday in Sacramento a referee error led to the erasure of their game tying 3 by Terrence Ross.
Here’s what happened:
Sacramento incurred a shot clock violation with their last play which began with 27.2 seconds remaining.
Instead of setting the shot clock to 3.2 (27.2 – 24) the Kings inexplicably gave the Raptors 2.4 seconds.
When DeMarre Carroll inbounded the ball it touched DeMarcus Cousins hand, but the time keeper didn’t start the clock when this happened.
The clock did however start before Ross touched the ball.
As all players are want to do Ross released the shot based on the time he saw on the shot clock.
The referees sent the play to Secaucus who determined there was an error and Ross shot left his hand at 2.5 seconds after the inbound deflection.
A day after League officials issued a statement they were correct in their timing and the play stands
Here’s the rub. There was no explanation given for why 0.8 seconds was removed from the shot clock for the Raptors. Nor was there an appropriate explanation provided for how the officials came up with their 2.5 second assessment.
The Raptors are protesting the decision, though it’s likely the League won’t make amends. This marks several seasons in a row the Raptors have lost games in last second referee errors resulting in apologies after the fact. Ironically, last season the Raptors should have been the Eastern Conference top team given another last second mistake. Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony stepped out of bounds and then took 10 steps without a travel call. New York scored to win the game. In this instance an apology followed which did nothing to give the Raptors the point they rightly earned. Moreover given the fact the Raptors finished just one point back of Cleveland and owned the season series 2-1 they should have been the East’s top team.
Not to focus the entirety of the game day on this matter, but this has far reaching implications. In essence, this decision opens the door for future problems. It’s inevitable a team will claim clock malfunction and start the clock late to wipe out a late game tying score. The major problem exists because players on the floor observe the shot clock to time their release. Since the clock is controlled manually the reaction time at best takes tenths of seconds following the in bound play. But once Secaucus gets involved they use exact pinpoint timing.
Bottom line the Kings were rewarded for a referee error while the Raptors were punished. The worst part is the League’s confirmation of their decision did nothing to address the Raptors lost 0.8 seconds. Ultimately the shot should have counted and the game should have gone to overtime.
Suffice to say the Raptors arrive in Houston with a chip on their shoulders. The Kings debacle means they have now lost 4 of their last 5 games and no doubt will be laser focused on righting the path this evening.
Sep 26, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) bounces a ball on his head as he waits to have his picture take during media day at BioSteel Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Fred VanVleet was a stand-out in Summer League, Toronto ink him to $50k deal with potential of a longer term deal. VanVleet will arrive in training camp with the potential to make the team or the Raptors 905 D-League squad.
Mar 25, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley (2) controls the ball as Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) defends in the first quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Houston Rockets Starting 5:
As per Mike D’Antoni’s post practice comments on Tuesday he said Beverley would return tonight vs the Blazers and be in the starting line-up.
Mar 25, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Toronto Raptors guard Cory Joseph (6) and Houston Rockets guard Corey Brewer (33) battle for a loose ball in the second half at Toyota Center. The Rockets won 112-109. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 1, 2016; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Toronto Raptors forward Jared Sullinger (0) lines up to shoot as Golden State Warriors Guard Ian Clark (21) defends in the third quarter at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
The Venue: Toyota Center, Houston, TX
The Tip: 8:00 PM EST, 7:00 PM CT
TV: Root Sports in Houston and TSN in Toronto
Radio: 790 AM in Houston and Sportsnet 590 The Fan in Toronto
Delon Wright – shoulder, targeting a December – January return following surgery
Jared Sullinger – foot, had surgery expected to remain out until January as per Masai Ujiri
DeMarre Carroll rested Monday versus the Clippers, so he should be good to go tonight.
Mar 6, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) is called for a flagrant foul after knocking down Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverly (2) in the fourth quarter at Air Canada Centre. The Rockets won 113-107. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
DeRozan vs. Harden have known each other since childhood and love to take each meeting personally. Going back the past few seasons these 2 have provided some of their best efforts against each other. DeRozan’s career high of 42 points occurred against Houston and Harden led his squad to a sweep of the Raptors last season. With DeRozan surely hunting for another 30 point night and Harden chasing the MVP expect nothing less than their best tonight.
Lowry vs. Beverley: Since returning to the line-up, Beverley has helped the Rockets, especially defensively. Conversely, Lowry has begun to resemble the bull dog captain he who captained the Raptors the past several seasons. And let’s not forget Lowry has reason to be fired up to see Beverley as he instigated the referee to eject Lowry in the last outing. Of note, DeRozan was also ejected.
Valanciunas vs. Capela: You may recall in his rookie season Capela played more post season games than regular season games. But, his break out performance occurred against the Raptors. That may be because Valanciunas has issues with fleet footed centers. Conversely, JV offers a handful offensively for Capela.
Anderson vs Patterson and Gordon vs Joseph: Though Patterson won’t begin the game (that honor goes to the rookie Siakam) he’ll no doubt see plenty of time on Anderson. Both are considered stretch fours. The main difference is Patterson’s defense is far superior while Ryno has the edge on offense. That said Patterson who began the season shooting miserably from deep has shot close to 43% in the past 5 games.
A similar diversity exists between Gordon and Joseph. Unlike most teams who offer back-up point guards to change pace the Raptors have a defensive minded Joseph or even Norman Powell they can utilize to slow Gordon.
Mar 25, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) and Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) reach for a loose ball in the second half at Toyota Center. The Rockets won 112-109. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Keys to winning:
Don’t focus on win-loss of last 5 games: The biggest mistake the Rockets could make is to under estimate the Raptors. They’ve played 5 of the top 7 defenses and just in the past 8 days have played 3 of the top 5 offenses. Tonight they’ll get the clean sweep of top 5 offenses since Toronto rank third and Houston ranks fifth.
In fairness Houston has had their trials having spent more time on the road then at home. The major difference is while the Rockets have played back-to-backs neither featured the Warriors or Clippers who were rested and rank in the top 5 offenses..
Toronto’s 2 losses to Cleveland came right down to the buzzer in both occasions, and each featured a series of questionable calls. To wit, in the last game versus the Cavaliers Valanciunas was pulled the the floor without a whistle and then on the opposing Cavaliers possession Lowry was called for placing his hand on Love’s hip, as well as for a tech for bouncing the ball off his foot. It may all be coincidence as everyone will tell you these calls all even out over the course of the season. Rockets fans should hope tonight they aren’t the team who pays the price for the karmic balance which is far out of whack for the Raptors at this point in the season. ‘
Control the Raptors backcourt: Just like the Raptors will be game planning for Harden, so to will Houston for James Harden. And just like his childhood friend Harden has gotten off to an MVP level type season, DeRozan has already produced performances which have put his name in the same sentences as Michael Jordan. Through 14 games DeRozan has scored 30 or more points in all but 4. As teams have adjusted their defensive coverage of the shooting guard, he’s upped his assists.
As for Lowry he got off to a slightly slower start as his offseason conditioning was thrown out of whack due to his appearance with the Team USA at the Olympics. Due to his high usage rate in season and post season Lowry took time for rest which meant it’s taken him a little longer to get in game shape. In his first 6 games Lowry averaged under 17 points averaging a meager 28% from deep. However, in his last 5 games hes averaging 24.4 points and shooting just under 43% from deep.
Defensive Focus: As good as the Rockets have been the Raptors rank one spot ahead of them offensively. Moreover, Toronto has not only faced the other top 5 offenses, they’ve also faced 5 of the 7 top defenses losing only to the Clippers in this group.
Both squads insist their defense requires improvement, yet it was the Raptors who more recently (just 10 days ago) ranked in the top 10. If Houston wants the upper hand in this area they’ll need to be prepared to run, and a lot because Toronto uses screens more successfully than any other squad.
Run the pick and roll repeatedly: while Clint Capela has always had decent outings versus Toronto, his counterpart Valanciunas has also made major strides averaging close to a double-double on this season. Where he lacks is in his defense of the pick and roll, which is also true of the team in general. The Raptors rank in the middle of the pack defending the perimeter, so Harden may want to run PnR sets with Capela over tossing out passes for three point shots.
Control the ball: Also the Rockets will need to be careful with their ball handling and can’t afford to turn the ball over .Toronto will just pounce on turnovers and transition into fast break points. Two of the Raptors best assets are points made off turnovers where they rank second and fast break points where they rank seventh. And don’t expect the Raptors to return the favor of coughing up the ball because they turn the ball over the second least.
Suffice to say there are plenty of intriguing match-ups. Both teams can shoot lights out as their offensive ranking shows. Ultimately, the team who decides to play defense will gain the victory.
For more details on the squads check out the 2016-17 team previews: