Your Toronto Raptors are coming off a tough one in Charlotte last night and there's no time to dwell. Not on the referees refusal (or inability?) to ensure the correct amount of time was on the clock at the end of the 4th, not on yet another terrible start to the game, and certainly not on the fact they set a franchise record with 30 missed three pointers during the game. The terrible beauty of the NBA regular season is that no matter how bad you just played, you've got a chance at redemption, often just 24 hours later.
Toronto finishes a tough little three game road trip tonight against the Heat. 'Punnily' enough, this Miami squad has been both hot and cold; they're riding a three game winning streak right now, but that was preceded by a three game losing streak of their own.
Here are your keys to the game.
Home, Sweet Home
The Eastern Conference is more crowded than a Radio Shack on Boxing Day '96 right now. To wit: the Boston Celtics, currently in 10th place, are only 4 games behind the first place Cleveland Cavaliers. Toronto and Miami are currently somewhere in the middle, with the 15-9 Heat sitting 4th and the 16-11 Raptors in 6th. Important to note is that Miami's current record has been buoyed by an insanely home-heavy schedule. They're 11-4 at home and just 4-5 in a paltry nine road contests, tying them with Chicago for the least road games played in the NBA so far.
Before you damn the NBA-scheduling gods, if you take just a quick glance ahead, you'll notice that beginning on January 8th, the Heat have a stretch where they play a grueling 11 of 12 games away from South Beach. This game against Toronto actually begins another four game homestand for the Heat, and they'll be looking to make the most of it before they're chucked into the scheduling meat-grinder.
First Things First
Raptors fans will be aware that their team has struggled out of the gates in many games so far this season, but the Heat aren't great either. Both teams rank in the bottom 5 in the NBA in first quarter points, with Toronto putting up just 22.7 and Miami managing 23.6. While this may correlate to the fact that both teams play at a slow pace, Toronto and Miami are also bottom feeders in 1st quarter point margin, ranking 25th and 26th respectively.In other words, it's not just pace; both of these teams struggle to find their groove on a consistent basis.
However, both teams are strong in the 2nd half, with the Raptors ranking 4th in point differential, while Miami is 7th. The key thing to note here is that over their past three contests, Toronto has plummeted to near the bottom of the league in first quarter margin, while Miami has been a top 8 team. It's not rocket surgery; whoever gets off to the best start is likely going to take this one.
Something's Gotta Give
There are few teams in the league that like to play in the paint more than the Heat. Actually, that's not completely accurate. To be more precise, Miami loves to get right to the basket. They're not looking for foul line jumpers. As a team, they currently lead the NBA with a 66.6% FG% in the restricted area, making 17.9 baskets per game when they get up close and personal. Toronto however, is tied with the Spurs for the best defensive mark in the NBA, allowing only 15.0 buckets per game in the RA. Additionally, Miami is the 2nd worst team in the NBA in 3 point FG%, while Toronto struggles, allowing opponents to shoot 36.4% from deep. A key here for Toronto may be defending the right corner; from there Miami is 3rd in the league with a 46.7% three point mark. From the left corner? They shoot an NBA worst 24.5%. Seems like an area to focus on, Dwane!
Both teams rank in the top 4 in overall defensive efficiency and both teams love to play slow. If Toronto has anything left in the tank after last night, this one is going to be a slobber-knocker.