Game Preview: Raptors @ Rockets

The Raptors are back on the road for a pair of games against Western Conference contenders, beginning with Dwight Howard, James Harden and the Houston Rockets (8 PM ET, Sportsnet, Sportsnet 590 The FAN).

What to watch in the season series opener between these two teams tonight.

Right Time For Rockets? The Raptors come into this one riding a six-game slide in Houston, but they’re catching the Rockets scuffling a little bit with three losses in their last four after they opened the campaign with three straight wins.

Who’s Healthier In Houston? Both teams are dealing with ailments to key backcourt personnel, which could be a factor on Monday night. For the Raptors, Kyle Lowry sat out of the second-half against the Jazz due to a right ankle sprain that head coach Dwane Casey described as a tweak. Casey added that he suspected Lowry could have continued in a closer game, but he’s still officially listed as day-to-day. Follow the Raptors on Twitter for updates leading up to tip-off.

The absence of Lowry (5.6 assists per game) against his former team would be a huge blow for a Raptors team that already struggles sharing the ball at only 17.3 assists per game, next to last in the league.

Houston’s James Harden meanwhile, was a game-time decision with a bruised left foot against the Clippers on Saturday. He did give it a go and logged 37 minutes (just under his season average), but Harden was limited to a season-low 12 points on 4-15 shooting from the field.

Continue To Crash The Offensive Glass: The Raptors have thrived on second chance opportunities this season, as their 21 points per game in that category leads the NBA and accounts for roughly 22 per cent of their scoring. Toronto comes into this one ranked third in offensive rebounds per game (14.1), but that’s countered by the Rockets averaging 35.3 defensive rebounds per game (led by Howard’s 13.6 per contest) — good for second overall in the league.

Control The Tempo: The Raptors probably do not want to get into a shootout with a Rockets team currently among the league leaders in points per game (105.6) and field goal percentage (.473).

The Raptors are 0-2 this season when they allow more than 100 points and 3-2 when they hold opponents under the century mark.

Capitalize On Turnovers: The Rockets have allowed an average of 21.2 points off 19 turnovers per contest in six games since their season opener. Entering tonight’s game, scoring off of turnovers hasn’t exactly been a strength for Toronto, which ranks near the bottom of the league at 14.6 points off opponent’s giveaways.

On Saturday against the Jazz, the Raptors scored 22 points off 16 Jazz turnovers.

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