TORONTO RAPTORS (7-5)
at HOUSTON ROCKETS (11-3)
Tip-off: Tuesday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: Houston -6, Total: 220.5
Kyle Lowry is back in Houston to play his old team.
The Houston Rockets sacrificed a lot of depth in trading for PG Chris Paul this past summer, sacrificing key role players like Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell to get the deal done. Those sacrifices make it all the more impressive that, with Paul sidelined for nearly the entirety of the season thus far, the Rockets have nonetheless raced out to a Western Conference-best 11-3 to start the 2017-18 NBA season. They're currently riding a six-game winning streak, with the most recent victory being a 118-95 road win at Indiana on Sunday night. Paul is expected to return later this week, and Houston hopes to be playing its last game without him on Tuesday evening when it hosts the visiting Toronto Raptors. Featuring the same core of stars that it has for some time now, the Raptors are yet again taking another shot at Eastern Conference supremacy. And yet, in a season before which the East saw yet another outflux of talent, and one in which the once-mighty Cavaliers have struggled mightily, the Raptors are merely in the middle of the pack in the early going with a 7-5 record. They succumbed to a Kyrie Irving-less Boston Celtics team on Sunday afternoon, losing by a single point when a last-second would-be game-winner failed to find the bottom of the net.
As one would imagine, Houston's hot start has been largely thanks to the unstoppable play of PG James Harden. He's averaging 30.2 PPG and 10.2 PPG, a preposterous statline that is nonetheless in line with the ridiculous numbers he put up in Mike D'Antoni's offense last season. On November 5th, he electrified the Houston crowd with 56 points on 19-of-25 shooting against an overmatched Jazz team. Against the Pacers on Sunday, he made a 26 and 15 outing look easy. It was his fewest points in six games this month. Paul's return will complicate Harden's role, which has to be a cause of underlying anxiety in Houston given how well things have gone with The Beard running the show. Like last year, his main scoring sidekick has been SG Eric Gordon. Gordon, though, is shooting and scoring significantly more, as he's averaging 22.9 PPG to last year's 16.2. He leads the league with 11.2 3PA per game, and Harden is second at 11.0. Gordon has scored at least 20 points in five straight games. C Clint Capela appears to have made something of a leap in his fourth year in the league, averaging 13.3 PPG, 11.5 RPG and 1.9 BPG, all of which would be career highs. He's also shooting 70.3% from the line, up from a career-best 53.1% last season. SF Trevor Ariza and PF Ryan Anderson join those three in the starting five, and both are three-point specialists. Ariza had 15 points against Indiana, all of which came on threes
While they've kept the same core intact, the Raptors have modernized their offensive playstyle in the early going this season. Last year, they were 22nd in the NBA with 24.3 three-point attempts per game.This year, they're securely inside the top 10 at 31.1 attempts from deep per game. That doesn't quite extend to SG DeMar DeRozan, who is attempting only 2.8, and making only 30.3óboth startlingly low totals for a shooting guard. He is nonetheless the team's leading scorer at 24.7 PPG, and has an impressive 21.3 PER. He had 24 points against Boston, and PG Kyle Lowry had 19. An All-Star last season, Lowry has seen his scoring dip precipitously from over 21 PPG each of the last two season to 13.4 PPG early this year. He's yet to see a 20-point game this season. It has been, of course, a small sample size only 12 games into the year, and his scoring figures to pick up once his shooting percentages do. PF Serge Ibaka's rebounding total is down to 5.6 RPG, which would be his lowest since his rookie season. That's partially due to the Raptors' new perimeter-oriented approach, as he's attempting a career-high 4.9 three-pointers per game. Oddly, threes represent more than half of his field goal attempts. C Jonas Valanciunas and SF Norm Powell round out the normal starting lineup, but he's day-to-day after leaving the Celtics game with a hip injury. SFs OG Anunoby and CJ Miles will see more minutes as a result of his likely absence on Tuesday night.