Coming off a disappointing loss to the Brooklyn Nets and their tricky, drink-spilling coach, the Raptors will be looking to get back on track tonight. Unfortunately they're playing the Miami Heat, who are currently riding an eight-game winning streak and employ a perfect basketball player. Let's take a look at three things to watch tonight.
Can DeMar DeRozan keep it up?
I've long been a bit squeamish on DeRozan despite the fact there's a lot to like about him as a person and player. He always plays hard, seems like a genuinely good guy and loves playing in Toronto. Still, in my mind there wasn't enough there to justify the $9.5 million he'll be making over the next four seasons.
Slowly but surely, that might be changing. DeRozan comes into tonight's game on perhaps the best stretch of his career - over his last five games he's averaging nearly 29 points per game on over 50% shooting. Best of all, he's made 12 threes over that stretch. He still doesn't rebound well for a player with his size and athleticism and his passing will never be great, but if he can maintain his improvement from deep (shooting 40% so far this year) that contract will be a fair one. It will be interesting to see how he fares tonight against Dwyane Wade and an aggressive Heat defense that will surely be focusing on him.
Will Valanciunas break out?
Heading into this season there was very, very little to be excited about other than Valanciunas. Everyone seemed to be predicting a breakout season for the big guy, but it just hasn't happened yet. His per-36 and advanced numbers are generally down over last season and he just hasn't been able to find any consistency thus far.
There are well-documented concerns about his lack of touches, but I'd like to see the team get Jonas involved in more pick-and-rolls. He's a mobile big with soft hands and a good touch around the basket - what am I missing? His post game is still very raw but it seems like that's the team's preferred method of getting him the ball. Not good enough.
Is LeBron James a cyborg?
To be honest, I (and everyone else) should be much more excited to watch LeBron than the Raptors. Last time he was in Toronto James dropped an effortless 35-8-8; that kind of production shouldn't be effortless, but it sure looked that way. Honestly,I'm running out of superlatives to describe how dominant James has been this season. Even by his ridiculously high standards, this start is something else. His shooting splits look like this: 59-48-80. Any guesses as to how many players in NBA history have done that over a full season? None.
At this point LeBron is the Terminator of basketball players, minus the thick Austrian accent and paternity scandals. He has been sent to the future to destroy the game of basketball as we know it and demoralize any and all challengers. It's almost unfair. I'm not old enough to have watched MJ during his athletic peak in the late 80s/early 90s, but I imagine it must have been something like this.
So, above all else, take a moment to appreciate the greatness of LeBron James tonight. The outcome of the game ultimately means next to nothing. The opportunity to watch an all-time great in his prime? That's worth paying attention to.