After a turnaround of less than 48 hours, the Raptors are back at it again tomorrow night at home against the Miami Heat to start the only yet-to-begin series of the second round of the NBA playoffs. Our guy John Gaudes did a nice job on this series preview, so be sure to check it out.
The Raptors, playing with house money at this point, have another series to play. As the dust settles on the win over the Pacers, there has understandably been a lot of talk about how underwhelming the Raptors looked for large stretches (Indiana had the higher Net Rating for the series). Many are using that as a barometer for how the Raptors will fare against an admittedly potent Miami Heat team. Remember -- the 60-win first-seeded 2013-14 Pacers got taken to 7 games by a sub-.500 Atlanta Hawks team in the first round and recovered to take LeBron James' Heat team to 6 in the Conference Finals. Teams can recover from a tough first round performance. It has happened before.
That's the beauty of having a fresh slate once again. The monkey is off the team's back, the fans are content, and they have chance to get away from matchups that haunted them for seven whole games. Miami presents a whole new set of problems to solve, but we can be hopeful that the Raptors have turned the corner and will finally strut the quality that made them a 56-win team in the regular season.
Things to Watch For:
The Curse of Lowry's Elbow
The Raptors are an elite-ish team when Kyle Lowry is on. After a stellar year that'll likely lead to an All-NBA nod, Lowry has struggled since an elbow injury in March. His shooting splits of 32-16-71 in the Indiana series are a big reason why the Raptors offence struggled so much. When Lowry's firing, he's doing his best Steph Curry-lite impression with his long-range shooting off the bounce, in transition and as an off-ball guard in two point guard sets. Without him to worry about, the lack of shooting in some Toronto units is only exacerbated due to cramped spacing (cough, DeRozan).
At this point, he's basically become a supercharged Ricky Rubio for the time being. His ball-distribution has been phenomenal (his AST% has risen from 30% in the season to 35% in the playoffs), and with his plus defence and intelligence on the offensive end, he still grades out as a net positive. The Raptors need Lowry to be firing though, and hopefully getting away from George Hill allows him to do so. Goran Dragic shouldn't be able to hold a candle to Lowry defensively.
Fun with Small Units
The matchups in the starting lineup are interesting. Do the Raptors play straight up against Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson, Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside with Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson and Jonas Valanciunas? Do they hide DeRozan on Deng, put Carroll on Wade and Patterson on Johnson? A bottom-5 three-point FG% shooting team in the regular season, the Heat have found a new gear since going small and picking up Johnson. They're up to 40.6% from 3 as a team in the playoffs, and given the Raptors continued inability to contain their opponents' three-point barrages (second worst in the season), this sticks out as a major worry for the series.
The key might be to optimize for units with Powell/DeRozan, DeRozan/Joseph, Lowry and Carroll at times in order to have all your best perimeter defenders on the floor at once. Patterson in particular struggled with Solomon Hill of all people last series, and I'm nervous about him dealing with Johnson/Deng (both shooting above 43% from 3 in the playoffs).
The War on Hassan Whiteside
The pendulum on Hassan Whiteside seemed to have swung too far in the negative direction leading up the playoffs, even though he had a gargantuan +15 net rating during the season. After a good series against the Charlotte Hornets, it's clear that his impact will be felt all over this series. The Raptors guards did a good job of attacking the paint against the Pacers, only to be completely erased by Myles Turner and Ian Mahinmi over and over again. Mahinmi and Turner both kept the Raptors to under 42% at the rim during the series. Whiteside was better than both of them during the season and he could wreak absolute havoc in the paint.
The Pacers were fortunate in that they could keep at least one of their two rim protectors on the floor at all times. The Heat have no such luxury. Behind Whiteside, you're looking at Udonis Haslem, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Josh McRoberts. If the Raptors are able to play to Whiteside's weakness as the 4th most foul prone player this year, they'll have a field day against the Heat backups.
Where to Watch: TSN, 8:00pm