PREVIEW: Raptors at Rockets- Feb. 3

Feb 1, 2023; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Toronto Raptors guard Gary Trent Jr. (33) and guard Fred VanVleet (23) speak while the Utah Jazz shoot free throws in the fourth quarter at Vivint Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIEW: Raptors at Rockets- Feb. 3

The Rockets will be without Kevin Porter Jr. (foot) for an 11th straight game and Jalen Green (calf) for a third consecutive game when they host the Toronto Raptors on Friday night. After beating Detroit on Saturday and Oklahoma City on Wednesday, the Rockets will have a chance to win three in a row for the first time since December 2021.

Eye on the Raptors

Record: 23-30 (12th in Eastern Conference)

Offensive rating (rank): 114.5 (10th)

Defensive rating (rank): 114.2 (20th)

The Raptors have badly underachieved after winning 48 games last season and taking two games off the Sixers in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, despite bringing back their entire team. The Raptors’ offense has improved from 15th last season to 10th this season, but their defense has dropped from 9th to 20th. Fred Van Vleet is shooting less than 40% from the field, while Scottie Barnes has plateaued after his Rookie of the Year campaign a season ago. Toronto is a team to watch going into next week’s trade deadline, as Van Vleet will likely be a free agent this summer, and OG Anunoby, who will miss Friday’s game, has also been featured prominently in trade rumors.

Matchup to watch: Jabari Smith Jr. vs. Pascal Siakam

While his team has disappointed, Siakam has played the best basketball of his career this season, and he had a case to be selected to his second All-Star Game. The 29-year-old is averaging a career-high 24.9 points per game, and he’s attempting close to eight free throws a game, also a career-high. An abductor injury kept Siakam off the floor when these teams met in November, but Smith has the length and athleticism to make life tough on him. The Rockets rookie missed the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s win over the Thunder after taking a shot to the hip, but he was excluded from the Rockets’ injury report on Thursday.

What I’m watching for

This is a tricky matchup for Alperen Sengun because the Raptors really don’t play a center, but not for the reason you think. They have two on the roster, with rookie Christian Koloko averaging less than 15 minutes per game, while Khem Birch hasn’t played since late December. The Raptors playing small should actually make life easier for Sengun on the defensive end because the Raptors are the third-worst 3-point shooting team in the NBA, so the Rockets can hide Sengun on any number of poor shooters, most notably Barnes or Precious Achiuwa. I think the bigger challenge for the Rockets’ center will be on the offensive end of the floor because while the Raptors are small, they are also long and athletic. Sengun scored 17 points against the Raptors in November, but he only put up eight shots and finished with three turnovers.

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