• The NBA has your weekend starting right with nine games on the slate for Friday night. It has been a long week and you’ve worked hard. You shouldn’t have to go through the frustrating task of trying to figure out what games could be good or bad. Let Hoop Ball help you out by giving you a list of games that should more than satisfy your NBA watching needs.

    The Honorable Mentions: The Wolves take on the Wizards, the Hornets face the Pistons, the Magic play the Heat and the Bucks look to take down the Hawks.

    Now for what you have been dying for me to get to, here is your ‘must watch’ game for Friday night.

    Toronto Raptors vs. Houston Rockets

    Tip Time: 8 pm (est)

    Where: Toyota Center, Houston, TX

    Player Matchup: DeMar DeRozan and James Harden

    The Raptors (48-22) have found themselves just two games back from the Cavs for the one seed in the Eastern Conference. While passing Cleveland in the standings is something that the Raptors are fighting to achieve, their mindset is all about staying healthy and being prepared for the playoffs.

    “Health is more important,” head coach Duane Casey said. “I think we are all fighting for it, but if it comes between a guy fighting a sore ankle, a sore calf, a sore knee or whatever fighting for that spot. My team’s health is more important than putting him out there and further damaging him.”

    Casey has been stating that he would be resting his guys down the stretch for the past week. He kept true to his word by resting his point guard Kyle Lowry with a sore elbow on Wednesday night. The nine-year veteran (Lowry) – who was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week –  has had himself an amazing, All-Star season averaging 21.9 points, five rebounds and 6.9 assists per game. Lowry is a big component of the Raptors’ offense and that was put on display Wednesday night as the team was held to a season-low 79 points.

    “I think it’s tougher in Kyle’s position because he’s your point guard, he’s your starting point guard. He’s also one of our best three-point shooters and last night our offense was our issue,” Casey said. “When you take him out not only do you lose a guy who’s organizing everything and is a floor general, you’re also losing one of your best three-point shooters.”

    (Lowry is expected to return on Friday, but be sure to stay close to Hoop Ball for updates on his status before tip-off.)

    DeMar DeRozan has also been having a great year averaging 23.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game.  Through the month of March, DeRozan has been unstoppable averaging 27 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.

    The Rockets (35-37) enter Friday’s game looking to snap their current three-game losing streak. Houston has been playing ugly basketball, but yet they still find themselves right in the mix to make the playoffs. However, if they want to secure the eighth seed the team needs to start finding ways to finish games.

    “The season is not over,” Rockets’ head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “We’re in a position where, we take care of business we can still get into the playoffs. But we’ve got to take care of business. There’s no more excuses.”

    As usual, the Rockets must continue leaning on their star James Harden and hope his offense can lead them into the playoffs. In the last meeting against the Raptors, Harden blew up for 40 points and also racked up 14 assists while seeing 43 minutes of action.

    Houston is 5-7 through the month of March.  Without question the reason for their struggles has been the team’s inability to stop opponents on the defensive side of the floor. Over the Rockets’ last five games they have given up 108 points per game.

    The Rockets are playing playoff-or-bust basketball and as of late it has been bust. This six-game stretch for Houston is arguably the make it or break it point for their playoff hopes. With five out of the next six teams each with winning records the Rockets have to start finding ways to win games and fast.


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