One team that has consistently been in and out of that group is the Miami Heat, whose offensive rating currently ranks 12th, while their defensive rating places them seventh in the league. Two things the Raptors and Heat do have in common is they both rank in the top ten for net rating — and they play each other Tuesday night in Toronto.
There’s no denying there’s some similarities between these two constructed rosters. The major link right now is that both the Raptors and Heat are striving with players that were either selected outside of the lottery or went undrafted.
For the Raptors, they have no lottery selected player on their roster. For the Heat, seven of their 12 players averaging minutes in double-digits were selected outside the lottery or went undrafted — including their top three scorers: Jimmy Butler, Kendrick Nunn and Goran Dragic (who’s expected to miss Tuesday’s game).
The Raptors come into the contest supporting a 15-4 record — 9-0 at home — and second in the Eastern Conference, while the Heat are third in the conference at 14-5. For Miami, they’re also undefeated at home, but that won’t help them now.
Here are the details for tonight’s game.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 7:30 p.m. EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Miami – Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson, Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Meyers Leonard
Toronto – Kyle Lowry (doubtful – thumb), Patrick McCaw (out – knee), Matt Thomas (out – finger), Stanley Johnson (out – groin)
Miami – Goran Dragic (out – groin), Dion Waiters (game time decision – undisclosed), KZ Okpala (game time decision – Achilles)
Battle of the Undrafted Guards
Two of the starting guards for both these teams were undrafted. Yet, VanVleet a fourth-year guard and Nunn, a rookie, are both putting up big numbers for their respective teams. VanVleet is averaging an All-Star-esque 18.6 points per game, on 41 percent shooting, and 7.5 assists. Nunn, on the other hand, is averaging 16.1 points on 46.4 percent shooting from the field.
It’s not everyday a point guard battle features two guards who have had to earn their way onto an NBA roster, but Tuesday night will feature exactly that. Both players even spent a full four years in the NCAA, with Nunn needing an extra year after transferring from Illinois to Oakland (where he averaged 25.9 points last year).
With Lowry likely still out, the Raptors have had to use every bit of VanVleet — even though his minutes were high even with Lowry healthy. Meanwhile, with Dragic out and the recently injured Justise Winslow still returning to form, the Heat will lean on Nunn. If nothing else, expect to see this matchup a lot — and for it to matter.
Jimmy Butler probably wants nothing to do with the Philadelphia 76ers, the same way Joel Emiid wanted nothing to do with the Raptors on Nov. 25 (scoring 0 points). Although Butler might not be a Sixer anymore, he presumably remembers their seven-game series versus the Raptors from last years playoffs quite well.
During that series, Butler averaged 22 points on 44.3 percent shooting, and for the most part was a man possessed. And that was with Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry defending him. To a certain extent, it won’t get any easier with Anunoby likely being given the defensive assignment. But Butler knows what (maybe) could’ve been last year if the Sixers got by the Raptors, and you have to assume it will fuel him even more.
Back at the Scotiabank Arena for the first time since the four-bouncer, could Butler be in for a season-best scoring performance? The Heat haven’t relied heavily on Butler’s scoring, with only one 30-plus point game this season, but some athletes are built for these type of return — and revenge — moments.
A Meaningful Early-Season Game
The 20th game of the season may not have a lot of meaning to it, but with how tight the top of the East is right now, this is a crucial matchup for both teams. For the Raptors, the schedule doesn’t get any easier with Houston and Philadelphia (on the road) on the horizon. And the Heat after this one will have to fly right to Boston for another tough conference matchup on a back-to-back.
If there’s a chance to make an early-season statement — even though both teams have been doing that thus far — this matchup is another opportunity. It’s only early December, but two of the East’s big dogs are about to go face-to-face.