The Houston Rockets invade the Air Canada Centre for a game with significant playoff implications. The Toronto Raptors want to nail down the Atlantic Division title, which provides the #3 seed, and Houston doesn’t want to relinquish the #4 slot in the West to the Portland Trail Blazers. The Rox are led by 2 superstars, guard James (The Beard) Harden and centre Dwight (Superman) Howard, who would likely would earn a less flattering nickname from jilted Magic and Laker fans.
The Rox’s talent extends beyond those 2 beasts. Chandler Parsons at small forward has risen from second-round draft-pick obscurity to tettering on the edge of stardom in his third season. He’s one of those rare individuals who knows exactly what he can and can’t do, and epitomizes the thinking man’s ballplayer. Patrick Beverley, a smallish guard, was waived by Miami, but has worked his way back to the NBA. However, a knee injury will likely keep him out of this game. The door re-opens for the one-time rock star Jeremy Lin, who’s a competent point guard, though prone to turnovers. Terrence Jones, a serious up-and-comer at power forward, did not play in Brooklyn last night due to illness, and his status for tonight is uncertain.
Omar Asik, who spells Howard, could start on half the teams in the NBA. It is a measure of how powerful the Rox are that they didn’t see the need to move him prior to the trade deadline, despite the rich payback he would have provided. Their self-restraint is paying dividends, as Howard’s ankle injury may prevent him from dressing. If so, Asik, veteran Francisco Garcia and Donetas Motiejunas will likely split the big man duties.
Houston dropped its game with Brooklyn last night, and is improvising its lineup. The Raps can win if they:
- force the play down low. That’s more than simply getting the ball inside to JV. Neither Harden nor Lin play tough defense, and the Raps can blow by them almost at will. We need to get their threadbare front court in foul trouble.
- use Steve Novak more, please. Chandler Parsons need to be thinking about perimeter defense, rather than his offense.
- see Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson and Amir Johnson return to form. We’re going to need to score against Houston; this game won’t be a low-scoring mudwrestle like playing Chicago.
This game isn’t easy to handicap, as Houston is badly banged up, and the Raps may be without Kyle Lowry. Our point guard’s knee may get him out, or relegate him to spot duty. I’ll throw a dart at the board, and pick a 104-100 Raps victory.
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