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Tip In: "Progress?" Raptors Show some Fight, Fall Short 95-89 In Miami

The Toronto Raptors looked like a motivated team Sunday against the Miami Heat. Although the game ended in a loss for the Raptors, there were a number of encouraging signs for this team that is struggling to find an identity without their best player Andrea Bargnani. The HQ takes a look at whether this game is a sign of progress, or if it is just another loss for the Toronto Raptors.

Believe it or not, amidst all the Super Bowl buzz there was actually a Raptors game yesterday--and a pretty darn good one at that.

In a matinee affair, the Toronto Raptors took on the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena in what turned out to be a surprisingly competitive contest for the majority of its duration. In the end the Dinos were unable to come away with the victory, but their level of energy and effort was certainly nice to see and might have been enough to get the W against a weaker opponent.

The Raptors got off to a great start thanks to the smaller starting lineup that Dwane Casey once again chose to employ. Casey opted to reinsert Bayless into the backcourt with Calderon which slid DeMar down to the small forward spot and left James Johnson and Aaron Gray to patrol the frontcourt; this was the same starting lineup that was effective against the Wizards on Friday.

The Dinos carried over their hot start into the second quarter and finished the first half down by just 5 points. The Raps were able to keep this game close due in large part to an impressive first half by DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan poured in 16 of his 25 points in the first half and was extremely aggressive, attacking the basket almost every time he touched the ball.

DeMar would go on to lead the team in free throw attempts with 11, which is something he should be doing almost every time out. Coming into the game he was averaging 16 points per game in seven career matchups against the Heat, and lived up to his past performances with another great game against one of the top teams in the NBA.

Despite his great performance one can't help but being a tad frustrated with the contrast in the way DeMar played against the Heat, and the way he played in the previous game against the Wizards. He clearly has the ability to get to the bucket, it is just a matter of being aggressive; if DeRozan can hang 25 on the Miami Heat than he should be more than capable of putting up similar numbers against the Washington Wizards, instead he was content to play his game on the perimeter and launch lazy jump shots time and time again. If he is every going to take the next step in his development he is going to have to make the consistent effort to get to the bucket game in and game out.

In the third the wheels really began to fall off. The Dinos' offense struggled to take care of the basketball, committing a number of turnovers which lead to run outs and easy buckets for the transition oriented Heat. The Raps also suffered through an excruciating scoring drought of over four and half minutes which really didn't help matters. By the time the dust had settled on the quarter, the Raps found themselves down 13 points--a lead that would ultimately prove to be insurmountable.

Coach Casey felt that these poor decisions, both offensively and defensively, were the key to their third quarter collapse

"I don't think it was a lack of disposition in the third quarter. It was our decisions in the third quarter," Casey said after the game. "We wanted to make the easy pass, simple plays, and when you make chance passes against this team it really hurts you. I thought that's what broke our backs."

The Raptors did climb back into the game in the fourth quarter on the back of some timely shooting by Jerryd Bayless and Linas Kleiza, but after cutting the lead 5 with just over 2 minutes to go the Dinos surrendered a wide-open dunk after an errant pass found its way into the hands of LeBron James, increasing the lead to 7 and all but sealing the win for the Heat.

Both Dwayne Wade and LeBron James had huge games for the Heat. James finished with a game high 30 points to go along with 9 rebounds and Dwayne Wade added 25 points and 3 assists. Chris Bosh was held in check offensively, making just 3 of his 13 shot attempts to finish with 12 points, but pitched in other areas of his game with 8 boards and 4 assists.

In the loss the Dinos got some good minutes out of their bench; Linas Klieza put up 17 points--but did commit 4 turnovers, most of which came in that backbreaking 3rd quarter--and Ed Davis grabbed 8 points and 8 rebounds. Amir Johnson also pitched in with 6 rebounds and some solid interior defense. The Raptors won the bench battle 31-15.

By the time it was all said and done, the Raptors drop a game by 6 points that easily could have been a blowout loss. Is this a sign of progress? Or just another sporadically impressive performance that this team has been notorious for putting forth this season? We won't have to wait long to find out as the Raptors will travel to Washington to take on the Wizards once again tonight.

Here are your keys to the game:

1) Attack the Basket: The last time out the Raptors moved the ball well and got to the basket which was a big part of their success in that ballgame. As we have seen this season, the Raptors have, at times, fallen in love with the jumpshot and the jump shot has rarely given them any love in return. In order to come away with the W for the second straight game against the Wizards, getting to the basket and drawing fouls are going to need to be a huge part of the Dinos' game plan.

2) Hit the Boards: The Wizards have a couple of imposing figures inside with Javale Magee and Trevor Booker, both of whom are more than capable of having big games on the boards; however, both players are susceptible to being outworked, which the Raptors succeeded in doing on Friday night. The Dinos' huge rebounding advantage in that game was crucial to their victory, and it will be again tonight.

3) Bring the Effort: This one seems like an obvious one, but given how hard the Raps played in a loss yesterday and how quickly the schedule forces them to turnover and look ahead to the next game, how much effort the Raptors bring on the second night of a back-to-back will be a determining factor in deciding whether or not they can pull out the victory. The Raptors have proven they can beat the Wizards when motivated, but if they aren't then we have may see a game that looks less like the one on Friday, and more like Toronto's loss to Washington, earlier in the season.