Raptors beat Rockets in Japan preseason game

SAITAMA, Japan (AFP) – The NBA champion Toronto Raptors won a preseason game against the Houston Rockets 134-129 in Japan on Tuesday.

Pascal Siakam, the 2019 Most Improved Player, scored 24 points for the Raptors as Serge Ibaka added 18 and guard Fred VanVleet contributed 16.

Three-time All Star Spanish centre Marc Gasol stayed on the Toronto bench.

Former NBA Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook, traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder, made his Rockets debut by scoring 13 points.

Rockets star James Harden netted a game-high 34 points and centre Clint Capela added 12 points for Houston.

Ibaka opened the game with a double for the Raptors, but the Rockets quickly took the lead as Harden sank a three-pointer.

Toronto Raptors’ Fred VanVleet drives past Houston Rockets’ PJ Tucker and Clint Capela during the game. PHOTO: AP

He hit another three late in the second quarter, ending the first half 85-73 to the Rockets.

But the Raptors gradually trimmed the deficit, taking the lead in the fourth quarter with the Rockets receiving several fouls down the stretch.

“We have new goals when a new season begins,” Siakam told a news conference. “We challenge ourselves, each of us… every individual on the team.”

The Raptors last season became the first league champion from outside the United States (US) by dethroning the defending titleholders Golden State in the finals.

But the Raptors now face a tough season after NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Kawhi Leonard left for the Los Angeles Clippers after leading them to an NBA crown.

The Houston Rockets won more than 50 games but missed the Western Conference finals after they were defeated by the Stephen Curry-led Golden State Warriors last season.

The two teams will hold another preseason game today.