Raptors will get first look at Harden-Westbrook combo in Japan


TOKYO — Having completed training camp in Quebec City, the Raptors now hit the Far East for a couple of pre-season games against the new-look Houston Rockets.

The Rockets added Russell Westbrook and Tyson Chandler and hope to remain in the hunt in the deep Western Conference, but Westbrook is working his way back from off-season surgery and is only expected to suit up in one of the games against the Raptors here.

Houston beat the Los Angeles Clippers in Honolulu on Thursday, though that ex-Raptor you might have heard of Kawhi Leonard did not play and neither did Paul George.

Houston general manager Daryl Morey dealt aging star Chris Paul, along with a couple of first-round picks and two potential pick swaps to bring in Westbrook, who like former Oklahoma City teammate James Harden has won an MVP award.

Harden has also finished second in the voting twice and fifth. Westbrook has been fourth twice, fifth once and in the Top 10 two other times (Harden has two other Top 10 finishes too). Golden State found great success pairing MVP talents Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant with a high-powered supporting cast and now Houston is going top-heavy, with a significantly weaker lineup around the stars.

There’s only one ball, but the Rockets intend to stagger the two lead guards (except in crunch time). The last time they played together Harden was the NBA’s sixth man of the year and Westbrook was Durant’s sidekick. Things have certainly changed. Now Harden’s the fulcrum and Westbrook, long the ultimate alpha dog in a league full of them, is going to have to adjust to a new reality.

Westbrook reportedly looked good in practice on Wednesday but was held out in Hawaii.


In case you missed it, the Raptors picked up the fourth-year option on OG Anunoby’s contract. The move was only a surprise if you have no idea how the NBA works. Even though Anunoby had a tough second season, marred by injuries and unfortunate off-court tragedy, Toronto is high on the forward, believing he only slipped in the 2017 draft because of a significant injury. Anunoby is the favourite to earn the starting small forward spot this season. Toronto can now offer him an extension until next October.


With most of the elder statesmen facing free agency, the Raptors figure to be quite a bit younger come next season. But the 2019-20 campaign is only just getting underway and there are a lot of veterans on hand to help out the portions of the roster that are inexperienced. Head coach Nick Nurse appreciates having Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry around.

“The roller coaster that this game can bring is incredible,” Nurse said earlier in camp.

“I thought those guys showed unbelievable composure as veteran players and I think it’s going to carry into this year. You saw the contributions from all of them and you saw the camaraderie between all of the players on our team. All of the young players look up to these guys,” he said. “I think that’s one of the things that makes this team unique: You speak to them in the summer and there were times where we were low, and those veteran players were always calm, were always confident and they were cheering for the young players. We really appreciate them as an organization and as a team.”


Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni made history on Thursday, becoming the first coach to utilize the NBA’s new challenge rule. D’Antoni challenged an offensive foul call on Harden in a game against the Clippers. Coaches are allowed to use one challenge per game. “It’s going to be something that is going to take a little bit for us to get used to,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers told reporters … The Raptors had an exhibit at Nuit Blanche … These will be the 13th and 14th NBA games played in Japan. The 1990 meeting between Phoenix and Utah was the first regular-season game played outside of North America by a U.S. sports league. Indiana and Sacramento just played the NBA’s first two games in India to raucous support. Toronto is in Japan for the first time, while Houston was there in 1992 for a couple of regular-season games. When these games were announced Toronto still had Leonard and Paul was a featured star for Houston … Siakam is seeking a maximum contract extension. In other news, water is wet. Why is this a headline?