Toronto Raptors

What to watch for in the Toronto Raptors 2019 preseason opener against the Houston Rockets

The Raptors and Rockets tip off the 2019 NBA Japan Games (NBAE/Getty Images)

The 2019 NBA Japan Games begin on Oct. 8 when the Toronto Raptors take on the Houston Rockets at 6 a.m. ET.

It will be the first look at the defending champs, who return to the floor for the first time since Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals nearly three months ago.

Kyle Lowry, who recently agreed to a contract extension, will be inactive but the rest of the Raptors are good to go, including Marc Gasol, who is coming off of a busy offseason.

The preseason opener is a good chance to get a first look at how Toronto's roster has come together as it continues to build for the future.

With that in mind, here are four things to watch for on Tuesday:

Pascal Siakam

It has become more and more clear that moving forward, this team will go as far as the 2019 Most Improved Player will take it.

Much has been made of how Siakam will follow up his breakout season, with increased attention on him taking the next step in his development. The 25-year-old has said his offseason focus was to work on his ball-handling, playmaking and shooting.

What better time to showcase his development than in the preseason opener?

MORE: The best and worst case for Siakam in 19-20

Without Lowry to set him up, we'll get a look at Siakam's ability to create for himself while he scores off of the playmaking abilities of Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet, among others.

Still, it's the preseason, so Siakam isn't likely to see extended minutes.

In last year's preseason opener, Siakam finished with six points (on 3-10 shooting) and 13 rebounds in 21 minutes of action, so don't sound the alarm if he's sluggish out of the gate numbers-wise. The most important takeaways should come from his mentality and approach.

Nick Nurse's Lineups

In his first season as the Raptors head coach, Nurse was no stranger to experimenting with different combinations of players throughout the regular season. Both injuries and circumstances resulted in Toronto using 22 different starting lineups during the regular season.

While Nurse stuck with one starting lineup throughout the postseason, three of those five players won't be suiting up Tuesday as Lowry sits with injury and Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard moving on via free agency.

From the onset of the preseason opener, we'll get an interesting look at how Nurse plans to navigate the upcoming season. It's fair to assume VanVleet starts in place of Lowry, but will Norman Powell start at the 2?

Who starts at the small forward position? OG Anunoby? Will Nurse go with the two big-man look of Serge Ibaka and Gasol and slide Siakam to the 3?

After the starters are sorted out, focus shifts to the rotation and different looks Nurse will employ throughout the game itself. With 19 active players, minute distribution will be a bit different than in the upcoming regular season but it will give Nurse a good chance to work to incorporate and implement…

The New Guys

While several members of the team's playoff rotation remain, half of the Raptors 20-man roster are in their first year with the team.

MORE: Raptors training camp roster breakdown

Of the 10 new players, forwards Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson along with guards Terence Davis and Matt Thomas are on guaranteed contracts. Knowing these four will be on the team's opening day roster, Nurse is likely to work more to integrate them with the team early on.

Each of these players have the potential to make an impact in specific much-needed areas for this team, and Nurse will get a good look at just how well they fulfill these roles.

MORE: What are the Raptors getting in Thomas, RHJ and Johnson?

In addition to the players with guaranteed deals, Raptors' 2019 draft pick Dewan Hernandez, former lottery pick Cameron Payne, Devin Robinson, Isaiah Taylor, Sagaba Konate and Canadian Oshae Brissett are the newcomers that look to play their way into guaranteed deals for the upcoming season.

Payne and Robinson are three players that have plenty of untapped potential that could make a difference for the team should they realize it while Hernandez gets a chance to display just why the Raptors used a draft pick on them.

Limited minutes for the starting unit means the newcomers will have plenty of time to showcase just what they bring to the table.

Russell Westbrook and James Harden

The Raptors have plenty of new players, but the most highly-anticipated debut is on the other side as 2017 league MVP Russell Westbrook is listed as probable Tuesday after missing the Rockets first two preseason games (per Jonathan Feigen, Houston Chronicle).

FACT OR FICTION: The biggest storylines surrounding the Rockets backcourt

It will be the first look at a backcourt featuring Westbrook and 2018 MVP James Harden since 2012, when the two played in the NBA Finals together as members of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Over the last seven years, the two have evolved greatly as players, as evidenced by the MVP trophy each player has to his name. Now, we're set to see how the two can play alongside one another, if only in a preseason setting.

MORE: Why the Harden-Westbrook pairing will and won't work

There is a compelling case to why this pairing will - and won't - work out, but there is no question of whether or not two of the NBA's premier guards won't make for one of the most entertaining backcourts the league has ever seen.

The path to Harden and Westbrook figuring things out begins on Tuesday.

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