(Insert Biggie voice.)
"And another one."
From Indiana to Washington to Miami we go as the Toronto Raptors continue to be tested on the road by some of their conference's top clubs. The team is coming off big wins in Indiana and Washington and now heads to Miami this afternoon to take on the conference's second-best club record wise, the Heat.
In some ways the last two games have been "mission accomplished" for the Dinos who needed a few strong showings over this stretch to prove that their recent turnaround was for real. I'm not sure even a loss today would change things considering the convincing wins over the Pacers and Wizards, but that doesn't mean I'm expecting Toronto to lay down tonight.
No, this could be another W for Toronto as the Heat of late haven't been their usual dominant selves. Yes they've won eight of their last 10, but one of the losses came at the hands of the Sacramento Kings, and the club barely eked out victories against Denver (2 wins in last 10 games) and Atlanta.
To get a win tonight then, which would be Toronto's sixth straight victory, here are our three keys:
1) Attack the glass. There's no quesiton Miami is a handful to play but there is one big area of weakness with the club: rebounding. The Heat are last in the league in rebounds per game thanks and last in rebound rate. A big chunk of this is because the team doesn't get on the offensive glass (30th in offensive rebound rate) while Toronto has the eighth-best offensive rebounding rate in the NBA. Players like Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas and Patrick Patterson need to give the Heat all they can handle in this regard tonight, and someone like Kyle Lowry could be a major factor in this area as well. Miami is such a good defensive team overall that easy second-chance points will be big.
2) Keep up the D. Interestingly, while the Heat are ninth in the league in defensive efficiency currently...the Toronto Raptors are SEVENTH. (Read that again.) The Rudy Gay trade was viewed as a plus on offense by many of us but we also believed that the defence might take a slight step back. This hasn't been the case and as we've seen of late, the Dinos have literally closed the door on their opponents down the stretch.
With the Heat showcasing the second most efficient offense in the league behind only Portland, Toronto's defence needs to be of a Grade A variety tonight.
3) Bench Play. Miami's Big 3 of James, Wade and Bosh play over 30+ minutes a game. Mario Chalmers plays slightly less than that, Ray Allen plays about 25 mins, Norris Cole 24 and...then things start to really fall off. The bulk of Miami's production to no surprise then comes from the aforementioned players, and it can get a bit sketchy after that.
Toronto's bench has been very solid of late with guys like Patterson, Greivis Vasquez and John Salmons stepping up in key moments.
The Dinos are going to need more of that tonight and may be able to use their newfound depth to their advantage...especially in terms of guarding LeBron James.
When asked at practice yesterday about the assignment of guarding King James, Dwane Casey essentially listed half his roster as options and indeed it wouldn't surprise me to see everyone from Patterson to Landry Fields getting a shot at stopping number 6.