Despite barely holding off the pesky Nuggets on Monday night and then spotting the first quarter to the Wizards on Wednesday, the Raptors sit at 2-0 on the week and 3-1 on the season. The wins haven’t come easy but the Raptors are proving to the league once again that when all is said and done, they will be the better team on many nights this season — they have learned how to win.
Tonight will mark the Raptors first meeting with the Miami Heat since bouncing them in seven games last Spring in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. However, with Dwyane Wade en route to playing tragic hero in Chicago, Bismack Biyombo being the highest paid player on an NBA team (Orlando) and James Johnson swapping jerseys, it’s pretty clear that last year’s playoff narrative has set sail. That being said, we are still in for a great game of hoops featuring a steady dose of talent.
The “big three” era in Miami has officially come to a close with the departure of D-Wade and the unfortunate medical situation facing Chris Bosh. Heat faithful now turn to the dawn of a new era in which they hope that the likes of Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow can see them through. After four games thus far, the Heat sit at 2-2 on the season and are coming off an overtime win against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night.
Here are a few key things to watch for in tonight’s contest
DeMar DeRozan Continues to Chase History
DeMar DeRozan has been on an absolute tear to begin the season for the Raptors and has carried the majority of the load on offense. Through four games so far, DeRozan has thrown up 40, 32, 33 and 40 points in each respectively while shooting at a click of 55 percent — the greatest four game stretch of his career. In fact, no Raptor had ever started a season dropping 30 or more over the first three games and DeRozan is riding a stretch of four heading into tonight’s contest.
The magic number however — five. The significance? DeMar would become the first player since Michael Jordan in 1986-67 to score 30 or more points over the first five straight games of the season. DeRozan averaged 22 points over seven playoff games against the Heat last May, so look for him to be aggressive as always and firing on all cylinders.
Jonas Valanciunas vs. Hassan Whiteside
What started as a coming out party for two young big men with big potential, ended very abruptly for both parties in Game 3 of last season’s Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Jonas Valanciunas and Hassan Whiteside had been dominant forces throughout their respective playoff runs and after Whiteside left game three with a knee injury, the basketball Gods struck and immediately evened the playing field sending Valanciunas out of the series as well with a sprained right ankle later that contest.
JV averaged an impressive 13.8 points and 10.8 rebounds last post-season and really looked to be coming into his own as an elite big-man in the NBA. Luckily for Raps fans, this confidence and success has carried over for Jonas as he is averaging 16 points and 11 boards over the first four games this season.
Miami’s sneaky backcourt threat
With most of the attention being on Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow coming into the season, it has been the backcourt of Miami that has surprised many thus far. The Heat took a flyer on Dion Waiters this off-season and so far (albeit four game), no regrets. We all know what Goran Dragic can do, but perhaps the most pleasant surprise of all has been third-year guard Tyler Johnson. Johnson went undrafted in 2014 and signed a 10-day contract with the Heat in January 2015. With the departure of Dwayne Wade and Mario Chalmers, Johnson has taken advantage of filling in these minutes, averaging 15.3 points at a click of 53% early on this season.
Dragic has been a threat as always, averaging 20 points, 7 assists, 4.5 rebounds and a steal per-game so far. In Miami’s latest victory against the Magic, their backcourt combined for 67 of the teams 108 total points. The Raptors will have to be sure to guard the perimeter against this stingy Heat backcourt, as they have been shooting 38% from three-point land so far this season, good for sixth in the NBA.
Where to watch: 7 PM, Sportsnet Ontario