By: Josh Weinstein
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The Raptors (7-5) squandered their chance at halting the NBA’s longest active winning streak last time out against the Celtics. Now, they’ll have a chance to end another in Houston at 8 PM ET.
The Rockets (11-3) are riding a six-game winning streak of their own, with no signs of slowing down. James Harden has been playing out of his mind in his last six contests, putting up other-worldly averages of 35.8 points and 11.5 assists. Harden’s been the catalyst for Houston’s ridiculous offence, which has scored 120 points per game during that span. Overall, Houston averages the third most points per game league-wide (111.1) and are tied with Golden State for the best record in the Western Conference.
This game is certainly a huge test for Kyle Lowry. He’s shown signs of snapping out of his offensive rut, and against a Rockets team, the Raptors are going to need undoubtedly his best performance of the season on that end.
OG Anunoby is also someone to look out for. While he doesn't put up eye-popping offensive numbers by any means, Dwane Casey has already shown he values Anunoby's defence, especially in late game situations. That prompts the question: is there any way that we see Anunoby try and contain Harden at some point if the game is tight? If that's not throwing a rook into the biggest of moments to see what he's made of, I don't know what is.
Contrarily to popular belief, Chris Paul’s absence has been a minor blessing in disguise for Houston. Harden’s once again taken the reigns as the team’s point guard, which has seen him put up numbers similar to those from MVP-calibre 2016-17 season. It seems when Harden’s usage rate soars, so too do the Rockets number of wins.
Aside from Harden’s production soaring, the Rockets role players have also gotten a chance to solidify their roles, so that when Paul comes back, it’s not as big an adjustment for the team collectively.
It will be intriguing to see what happens when Paul returns. Paul will have to adjust his game to fit the Rockets style of play, rather than the other way around. That starts with ridding himself of his typical ball-stopping habits, and learning to play off the ball instead. He had trouble adjusting in the Rockets season opener, as the former Clippers floor general looked lost on the offensive end. You’d have to figure a player of Paul’s calibre will be able to adjust to his new circumstances in the long run, though. The adjustment process will become much easier once he accepts this is Harden’s team and that the offence works best with Harden as its primary ball handler.
Norman Powell is listed as doubtful, as he continues to recover from a right hip pointer he suffered in Boston. Expect Anunoby to start in Powell’s absence.
Here are tonight’s projected starting lineups:
- PG Kyle Lowry
- SG DeMar DeRozan
- SF OG Anunoby
- PF Serge Ibaka
- C Jonas Valanciunas
- PG James Harden
- SG Eric Gordon
- SF Trevor Ariza
- PF Ryan Anderson
- C Clint Capela