The NBA All-Star break is closing in and if there’s any team worthy of a break, it’s the Toronto Raptors. They will tip off back-to-back outings tonight against the Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday.
The Raptors are first place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 39-16 and will look to be ahead by two games in the loss column from the second place Boston Celtics. The Heat, on the other hand, have lost five of their last six and are 30-26 and place eighth in the East. Tonight will determine who stays hot and does not.
Looking back, Toronto hopes to have a different outcome from the last time these two teams met back on Jan. 9. The Raptors were without Kyle Lowry due to back spasms and his absence really showed in that game. The pace wasn’t there, the ball wasn’t moving around too much on offense, and Delon Wright, who was starting in place of Lowry, was having trouble containing Goran Dragic. Basically, the heart of the Raptors was missing in that game.
With Lowry already sidelined, things got chippy between the two teams the Heat’s James Johnson and Raptors’ Serge Ibaka exchanged blows in the third quarter, which got them both ejected from the game and suspended one game.
After being down by as many as 12 with a buck 25 remaining in the third quarter, the Raptors clawed their way back into the game with the help of their bench (which always brings in energy) and eventually led 89-88 with 3.1 seconds remaining in the game, courtesy of DeMar DeRozan putting back up his missed layup. However, that wasn’t enough as Wayne Ellington drove in for an easy layup that was caused by a defensive breakdown by OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam, giving the Heat a 90-89 win.
The chippiness didn’t end there as DeRozan and Dragic got into as the teams were meeting each other on the court before heading back to their locker rooms.
These factors, and more, is what gave Miami a victory in the end.
Thankfully, the Raptors will have Lowry this time around (and will hope for no ejections), so expect more life from Toronto. (Oh look, a Drake reference.)
Here are the details for tonight’s game.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 7:00 p.m. ET
Toronto – OG Anunoby (Sprained right ankle – Questionable)
Rebounding will be an Emphasis Tonight
The Raptors will need to do a better job in rebounding the ball tonight. In that last meeting, Miami out-rebounded Toronto 64-37, 20 of them were offensive rebounds. Their plus-27 rebounding margin was their fifth-highest total in franchise history and their 37 first-half rebounds tied their franchise best. Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo led the team 15 rebounds apiece but what’s more alarming is that Dragic, who is listed at 6-foot-3, recorded 12(!) rebounds. For Toronto, Wright led the team with seven rebounds, which should be a concern for Toronto because guys like Jonas Valanciunas, Ibaka, Siakam, Jakob Poeltl were non-factors on the glass when usually they are pretty reliable in rebounding.
The Raptors will definitely need to a better job in boxing-out and with Lowry back, fans should expect he will have Dragic in his sights.
Ball Movement has been Key
What used to be an iso-heavy run offense, coach Casey and his staff have done a great job in revamping their style of play that emphasizes ball movement. During their five-game winning streak, the Raptors are averaging 27.4 assists per game, with 35 total assists on Sunday against the Charlotte Hornets, tying their season-high which also happened to be against the Hornets back in December. The Raptors will need to continue this trend because they only had 15 assists and the ball was sticking on many possessions in the first meeting against the Heat.
Although DeRozan had 25 points in that game, he struggled from the field and shot 10-for-29 but luckily for him, he will have Lowry by his side which will create plays for him rather than him making the plays for himself. This will lead to better ball movement resulting in easy buckets for either him, JV, Ibaka, C.J. Miles, and others. This will be key because if the ball sticks, the Heat have good iso-defenders in Justise Winslow, James Johnson, and Dwyane Wade, who will make his return back to Toronto in a Heat uniform.
Protect the Paint
The Heat aren’t known for running their offense through the paint, ranking 22nd in the league in points in the paint with 42.3 points per game but in the last game against the Raptors, they feasted, scoring 58 points. When Ibaka got ejected, the Heat went old-school with Adebayo playing power forward and Whiteside playing centre. That was when the game shifted drastically in the favour of the Heat and when Adebayo, Whiteside, and Dragic did most of the damage in the paint in that game. With Anunoby questionable for tonight’s game, that potentially takes away one of the Raptors’ solid defenders, so it will have to be a collective team effort in stopping the Heat to get easy baskets inside the paint. So easy that Derrick Jones Jr. was flying in from the three-point line and throwing down putback dunks.
Let us Raptors fans hope Toronto will continue to ride this wave as we are approaching the All-Star break and are looking great through 55 games.