Even though they lost their last game to the Hawks, it's been one heck of a week for Raptors fans. Can the Dinos pull off another upset against the Miami Heat? The HQ's Sean Tepper weighs in on tonight's action.
Yes, it was unfortunate that after beating the Atlanta Hawks 102-86, that the Toronto Raptors couldn't sweep the home-and-home series while once again playing without a good portion of their lineup, but without Andrea Bargnaniand Jose Calderon you've got to be impressed by what Dwane Casey has done with a roster of fringe starters and D-Leaguers.
However, tonight's matchup will be the toughest one yet.
To find the last time that the Dinos managed to beat the Heat you would have to go all the way back to Jan. 27, 2010. In that game the raptors won by less than 10, with Chris Bosh scoring 24 points for Raptors.
Also, in that game, the Heat didn't have the luxury of sending LeBron James onto the court. Now, James is on fire as he is averaging 29.8 points in the 12 games that he has played without Wade. As of the time that I wrote this preview, it is unclear whether or not Wade would be healthy enough to suit up for the defending Eastern Conference Champs.
If we are going based on history, the Raptors don't really stand a chance as they have lost eight straight games to Miami. However, Toronto managed to contain the Celtics to under 80 points a few games ago and you never know what can happen on any given night.
Here are the three keys to tonight's game.
1) Create the Fastbreak: If I was forced to describe the Miami Heat in three words, it would be seasoned, talented and extremely athletic. Unlike Toronto's roster, which features a mix of young starters and former D-leaguers, the Heat present a threat at almost every position. Everyone knows that the Raptors` defence is by far and away the team's biggest strength, and they will have to continue to produce this evening if they hope to come away with a W. Even without Wade, James and Bosh both scored over 20 points in their last night against New Jersey Nets, with Bosh also accounting for 15 rebounds. The Raptors don't necessarily need to overwhelm the Heat on defence, but they need to find a way to control both the tempo and the pace of the game. If the Raptors allow Miami's defence to set themselves up they will not have a chance at scoring. But with that being said, if they can if they are able to pressure the Heat on defense and force turnovers (they had 13 against the Nets), then the Dinos may very well find themselves in a position to pull off the upset.
2) Do the Little Things Correctly: This key has no string attached. It has no hidden messages. It means exactly what it says. When a sub .500 team takes on one of the NBA's elite, it can be easy to get lost in the hype which can lead to sloppy basketball. Like every other game that they have played over the course of the season, the Raptors cannot hope to win this tonight's game if they buy in to the hype and get overly excited in an attempt to pull off an upset. That means that the Dinos need to make that extra pass on offense. They need to minimize the amount of hurried shots that they take and under no circumstances can they turnover the ball. Like in football, the turnover battle is an essential aspect to winning as the team that is able to protect the ball, is generally the team that is able to capitalize on their offensive opportunities while limiting the other team's chances at putting up points. If the Dinos can be careful with what they do with the ball and properly execute their play at both ends of the court, then they should be able to keep up with the Heat.
3) Control the Boards: This is an especially intriguing key because it refers to something that the Raptors have done and the Heat have not. The reason that the Dinos managed to beat both the Atlanta Hawks and the Boston Celtics last week is simple; they managed to dominate the glass. While Miami, as a team, outranks Toronto in almost every statistical category, the Raptors do rank higher as a team (19) than the Heat (22) in rebounds per game (albeit barely). If there is one truth in basketball, it's that the team that controls the glass generally wins the game, and players like Amir Johnson and Aaron Gray are really going to have to step up tonight. While defensive rebounding is always a necessity, I believe that offensive rebounds will be the deciding factor in this one. It's also interesting to note that in their narrow win against the Nets, the Heat were out-rebounded by New Jersey.