NBA: Who’s Ready for a Rockets-Raptors Showdown in the Finals?
At the beginning of the season, with the Boston Celtics overpowering the East and Golden State Warriors being the dominant force that they have always been, everyone expected these two franchises to be the teams to make the NBA Finals. Fast forward to now, at the All-Star break, most of those thoughts have definitely changed.
In fairness to the Celtics, they have exceeded expectations without Gordon Hayward, ranking second in the Eastern Conference standings through the first stretch of this season. However, they just don’t have enough consistent scorers and aren’t as deep as the Toronto Raptors.
As for the Warriors, they are now the second-best team in the NBA record wise and I believe that Houston is more talented overall and has a roster that can defend and shoot with Golden State.
The Raptors are built differently
Toronto (41-16) currently holds the best record in the East and absolutely obliterated the Celtics in their previous matchup last week 111-91. The C’s defeated them 95-94 earlier in the season and the two teams will meet up two more times after the All-Star break.
There are a few things that stand out to me about Toronto, but the main thing is that they are one of the rare teams that have consistently ranked among the top-five in both defensive rating (fourth) and offensive rating (fourth).
Also for the Raptors, All-Star DeMar DeRozan is starting to take and make more threes at a near career-high rate of 33.0 percent. This is huge for Toronto because it makes defenses have to close out on DeRozan, a player who has made a living with his efficient mid-range shooting and ability to finish at the rim.
Lastly, they are a team with veterans like Serge Ibaka, big man Jonas Valanciunas, CJ Miles, and of course DeRozan’s backcourt mate All-Star Kyle Lowry. The bench is also first in the NBA in defensive rating while putting up more than respectable 40.4 ppg. with backups like Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell.
THE ROCKETS ARE LOADED
The Houston Rockets have been quite impressive as well in this first stretch of the NBA regular season. Coming into this year, I was quite hesitant on if the new All-Star backcourt duo of Chris Paul and James Harden would work but thus far it has exceeded my expectations!
Houston (44-13), have the best record in the NBA and had it not been for the trio of Paul, Harden, and big man Clint Capela not playing more due to injuries, that record could be even better. The Rockets have only lost one game when all three of those players have been on the court. James Harden is the front-runner for MVP thus far in the season and Clint Capela is having the best season of his young career, averaging a double-double (14.4 ppg. and 11.1 rpg.) and nearly two blocks per game.
Beyond Houston’s “Big Three”, the Rockets have three-point shooters like Ryan Anderson, Gerald Green, Trevor Ariza, and Luch a Moute who are all making at least 36.6 percent of their attempts from the perimeter. The Rockets also rank second in offensive rating (113.2) and ninth in defensive rating (104.6) so they are a well-balanced team.
Lastly, the Houston has already beaten Golden State in two of their three matchups this season, both on the road at Oracle Arena and at home in the Toyota Center.
The defense for betting against both teams is lack of previous playoff success beyond the Conference Finals. However, like that old cliché saying goes “New Year, New Me” and I honestly think that could be the instance for both teams. Still, with so many games left you never what can happen but for what I have watched with my own eyes these are the two best teams in the NBA thus far in the season!