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Heat vs Pacers Represents Reality Check for Raptors' Fans

The Raptors don't have a James or Wade, and are still a ways away from having the Pacers' collective of talent.
The Raptors don't have a James or Wade, and are still a ways away from having the Pacers' collective of talent.

The Heat's "two" were better than the Pacers "five," but as Franchise notes, both situations are stark reminders of the work ahead for Bryan Colangelo and the Toronto Raptors.

The Miami Heat's Joel Anthony had a PER of 10.3 this past season.

Considering the league average PER is 15, that's not a great mark.

The same could be said for other members of the Heat like Mike Miller (11.4), Mario Chalmers (12.98), Ronny Turiaf (12.27) and James Jones (9.68.)

Yet with last night's 105 to 93 win last night over the Indiana Pacers, those players are advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals, awaiting the winner of the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers.

They didn't get there alone of course. Two of their teammates, Mr. Wade and Mr. James, might have played a small role in getting the Heat to their second straight Eastern Conference Finals birth, and by small role I mean scoring 69 of the club's 105 points.

Yes, two-thirds of the club's points were delivered by the club's two superstars but the impact of LeBron and Dwyane goes much deeper than that.

Much deeper than the box score I'd argue as when the chips looked down for the Heat only three games ago in this series, these two, minus Chris Bosh, took the reins and delivered two straight upper cuts before administering the knock-out blow last night.

Full disclosure, I was cheering for the Pacers in this one, but there was something hypnotic about watching Wade and James take apart Indiana. Every time they touched the ball, five players on the opposing team were forced to do something they didn't want to do, an incredible thing when you think about it in the context of sports, and further proof of the value a single player can have in the NBA.

We always hear things like "the NBA is a superstar driven league" but most of the time that seems to be more of a marketing slogan than the truth. Tthe Dirk Nowitzki-led Mavericks couldn't have won the title without Dirk's heroics but it took a lot of Jason Terry, Shawn Marion and co. as well.

The Lakers and Celtics, previous winners, had their respective "big 3's," but there was always a lot of help via fourth and fifth options like Ron Artest, Rajon Rondo, etc, etc.

Last night though was a bit like watching two on five.

Don't get me wrong, Joel Anthony's defence on Roy Hibbert was fantastic and a huge reason he had only eight shots, and Mike Miller hit some huge 3-pointers...

But seriously, Miller was walking around out there like he was 78 and it's not like Anthony pulled in 20 rebounds. He had three!

Last night's game was essentially a showcase for Wade and James showing just how much better they are than the vast majority of other basketball players currently employed in the National Basketball Association. As's Zach Lowe tweeted last night:

Great season, Indy. Sometimes having the two best players in the world (or two of the top three, whichever) is enough.

It's a scary thought and one that brings me back to the Toronto Raptors, less than a week away from the NBA draft lottery.

The Raptors certainly don't have the league's two best players (or two of the top three), and they certainly don't have the talent that Indiana has either. For all the James and Wade love, it was impossible for me not to watch last night and envy both teams.

Hell, I'd been doing that since the series kicked off as both teams are currently in positions Raptors fans can only dream of. The Pacers epitomize the idea of slowly building a club from the ground up thanks to solid draft decisions and personnel adjustments via trades, while the Heat took advantage of a favorable NBA market, cleared their books and took a run at grouping three of the league's best players together.

The latter strategy at this point is an impossible one for the Dinos to follow, but the underlying point in both scenarios is that by securing the league's top talent, you win games. This of course seems overly simplistic but even in the Pacers' case, they did a commendable job grabbing top talent via the draft and trades, thus putting them in their current position.

The Raptors have not done this.

We can argue about the upside of players like DeRozan and Bargnani all we want, but until they actually produce on a consistent basis like elite talent, Toronto is going to remain a lottery team, banished to the NBA's basement.

I think at times we Raptors fans get too caught up in "upside" and in many ways, it's hard to blame us. When you're a fan of a perennially bad basketball team, that's all you've got and the results of our "Who'd You Rather Be" series echo this; a great number of voting results have been a lot more in favour of the Dinos than I would have expected, something I've attributed to those "hope" and "upside" factors.

But those only go so far and the playoffs to me have been a stark reminder of the work Bryan Colangelo and co have to do this off-season. We're not talking adding to the bench or subbing in player A for B in the starting line-up. We're talking a continued need for major talent upgrades, and I'm hoping the upcoming draft lottery positions the club to do just that.

So while I'll be wearing my lucky Mo Pete jersey next Wednesday night in hopes of taking the Heat route, I'll gladly settle for another piece of the Pacers' pie.