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Raptors vs Heat: Game 4 is a Whole New Ball Game

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With Jonas Valanciunas and Hassan Whiteside out tonight in Miami, both teams will search for a new winning formula.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It's fair to say that the last couple years haven't gone as expected for the Miami Heat. LeBron James decision to transport his talents -- this time away from South Beach -- meant a team that had been to four straight NBA Finals had to rebuild on the fly.

I know, boo hoo.

They still had Dwyane Wade, at the tail end of his prime, and they still had a slightly younger Chris Bosh. Most franchises would kill for that kind of a foundation, but the void left by The Bron was a wide one. In the two seasons following, Pat Riley filled it quickly and confidently. He poached Goran Dragic, fresh off a 2nd team All-NBA nod, from Phoenix via trade. He signed the reliable Luol Deng. He drafted supremely well, adding Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson. And midway through this season, he acquired veteran Joe Johnson, after the veteran was bought out by the Brooklyn Nets.

None of these were his biggest move. That came when he took a flier on Hassan Whiteside, a mercurial former Kings second round pick. Whiteside's long journey to the NBA is well chronicled, and Riley is one of the best executives in history, but I feel confident in saying that there was a certain degree of luck involved with how the experiment played out.

Whiteside grew into a menace for Miami, leading the league in blocks this season, picking up the slack when Chris Bosh went down with scary blood clots, and setting himself up for a massive payday- if you weren't already aware, he's an unrestricted free agent at seasons end, and many have speculated that he's as likely as not to leave the Heat, since they don't hold his full Bird rights. Either way, he's going to make bank.

Unless he's hurt, of course.

In their biggest game of the season, the towering man in the middle is out of action for Miami. An MCL sprain will keep Whiteside out of Game 4 versus Toronto, and there are whispers he's unlikely to return in the series. There's been chatter that he'd be smart to shut it down for the entire playoffs, given his tenuous contract status. Time will tell if there's any fire among the smoke. Either way, the void has reopened. For now.

A cushion for Whiteside is that the Raptors have lost their own big man, the surging Jonas Valanciunas, to an ankle sprain. The absence of Valanciunas, who was eating ol' Hassan's lunch for much of the series, gives him time to get right, if his intention is in fact to return.

Billed before the series as a marquee match-up, both big men have fallen. Toronto and Miami will work to adapt, and it will be interesting to see who fills their respective role better. It could be the difference in the series.

Our man John Gaudes wrote a fantastic piece today discussing Kyle Lowry's Game 3 success, and the JV/Whiteside vacuum.

Daniel Reynolds has your Game Preview.

Fire it up in the comments!