Raptors takeaways: James Harden too much to handle

James Harden finished with 32 points, 13 assist and 11 rebounds and led the Houston Rockets to a 112-109 win over the Toronto Raptors on Friday night.

Harden happy to pass
Much has been made about how difficult an offensive player James Harden is to play with because the ball sticks when it’s in his hands. Harden deserves some credit for being much more of a facilitator in conjunction with the Rockets’ late season playoff push. Harden had a great floor game scoring 32 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. Harden has now recorded 20-plus points and 10-plus assists in four of the past five games. That’s the 15th time he’s done it this season. Friday was also his third triple-double of the season and ninth of his career.

Death of the centre
The Rockets and Raptors are two teams who are ahead of the analytics movement in the NBA. What that often means from a style of play standpoint is a higher value on the three-point shot and more reliance on smaller lineups. The Raptors have shot 64 total threes in their two games versus Houston. The 31 they hoisted Friday to go with the 33 they shot in the previous Rockets matchup at the ACC are Toronto’s two highest volume three-point shooting games this year. Friday was a great example of the preference for small lineup combinations. Bismack Biyombo had just six points and four rebounds and played just 18 minutes. Jonas Valanciunas was -6 and fouled out of the game. Dwight Howard had just two points and five rebounds and fouled out. All three players had little impact. The NBA game is shrinking and being played farther from the basket.

Beasley gets buckets
The game changed when the Rockets used Michael Beasley primarily at centre. Valanciunas and Biyombo did an admirable job trying to guard Beasley but more importantly for Houston neither big man exposed the former No. 2 pick on the other end and punished the Rockets for going small. Beasley shot 9/12 and scored 21 points in 28 minutes. Coming into the league Beasley was considered a tweener between small forward (which he is listed) and power forward. Not too long ago he fell out of favour, was considered a bust and was playing in China. Now he’s a rotation piece for a potential playoff team stealing Josh Smith’s minutes. Size-to-skill ratio is much more valuable than size-to-strength ratio in the modern day NBA.

Ejected and dejected
For the entire game both DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry had a running dialogue with the officials. Multiple times on the offensive end they were complaining about the level of contact and lack of whistles. Late in the fourth quarter the officiating crew had heard enough. DeRozan was ejected with 2:55 to go down six getting hit with two consecutive technicals. Both whistles were quick but DeRozan had earned them throughout the night. This is just the third time in his career he was ejected from a game. Lowry picked up his second technical shortly thereafter complaining about a personal foul called on him feeling that Harden initiated the contact. After being told “that’s enough” after his initial complaints, Lowry walked away but continued to talk and clap. Patrick Beverley pointed this out to the officiating crew and when Beverley was told “I didn’t hear what he said,” Beverley played the role of translator and instigator eventually getting Lowry ejected. It was symptomatic of the level of frustration and lack of discipline Toronto played with throughout the night.

Friendly foes
The Raptors and Rockets are strongly linked as many of the players and staff spent time in the Houston organization. Lowry, Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson, DeMarre Carroll, Andy Greer and Jesse Mermuys all spent time with the Rockets. Lowry and Scola both received strong ovations when they were announced as visiting starters. On top of that, one of DeRozan’s best friends in the league is Harden and one of Valanciunas’s best friends is Donatas Motiejunas.

Super stats
• Luis Scola’s hot shooting from beyond the arc continued. Scola hit a career high four three-pointers against his former team.

• This is the first time Toronto has lost consecutive games since Feb. 10 before the all-star break versus Minnesota and Feb. 19 right after it against Chicago.