Playing in their first home game away from home, the Raptors look to close out their preseason schedule against their new Floridian neighbours, the Miami Heat. The Raptors are coming off a pair of wins against the Charlotte Hornets — with the latter game featuring 18 active players for the Canadian side — while the Heat picked up a loss in their lone game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday.
Five days out from their season opener against those same Pelicans, the Raptors are likely to go deep into their rotation yet again to give key players rest. But more importantly: they’re looking to solidify their 15-man roster and provide more court time and reps for the many new faces on the team.
Meanwhile the Heat have been without Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic, and Andre Igoudala — three key members of their rotation. With little to no implications for these preseason games, the rest will go a long way for the seasoned vets who are coming off the shortest NBA offseason of their careers following a deep postseason run to the NBA Finals just 68 days ago.
Here are the details for tonight’s Raptors vs. Heat preseason game.
Where to Watch:
TSN, 7:00 PM EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Norm Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Aron Baynes
Miami – Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson, Maurice Harkless, Bam Adebayo
Toronto – Kyle Lowry (Day-to-day – not injury related), Patrick McCaw (Day-to-day – Knee)
Miami – Jimmy Butler (Day-to-day), Goran Dragic (Day-to-day), Andre Igoudala (Day-to-day)
Home Court Advantage?
It’s a new home court, an entirely new facility, and a different country, and even though the Raptors are considered the home team tonight, do they have any advantage?
From the practice court, strength and conditioning facilities, and coaches’ office, to their living accommodations — and staying as close as a five minute walk away from — everything about playing in Tampa is still an adjustment for the team that just conducted their first practice in the facility on Thursday.
When Kyle Lowry was asked about his adjustment to being in Tampa, and his level of comfort, during a media availability on Thursday, he kept it brief.
“I’m comfortable wherever I am” said Lowry. “You put me anywhere and I’m going to make sure I figure it out.”
For Lowry in particular, he’s already begun to adjust himself and embrace the city of Tampa with his Lowry Holiday Assist program. The philanthropic initiative has helped local Toronto communities in the past with toy drives, and will continue to do so this season, but Lowry has extended is gift giving to his newly adopted city and the Metropolitan Ministries.
This years #LowryHolidayAssist looked a little different.— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 17, 2020
With a little help from @the_raptor, @Klow7 donated toys to @MetroMinistries in Tampa.
Don’t worry, Toronto, you’re getting love too with a toy donation to @RedDoorFamilySh. pic.twitter.com/e67kLUshnE
Going 17 players deep in your first preseason game, and following it up with another addition on the court, all while you’re franchise player in Lowry (and a limited Patrick McCaw), sit out is a testament to the experimenting Nick Nurse and the Raptors coaching staff are going through. For a roster that’s lost four of its core members since hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy two seasons ago, the Raptors are caught between chasing a Finals berth and developing their budding prospects.
“I’m still experimenting,” was Nurse’s immediate response when asked about the rotation. “You know I tend to lean probably towards something similar in the past early, until something else presents itself.”
After Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka made their departures for LA, the Raptors sought out centres and guard-forwards during free agency, coming out with quite a few signings. With a massive change in personnel since Nurse’s first season as head coach with the team, the experimenting is only justified. One new signing in particular has already show his worth, and has caught the eye of Nurse and the coaching staff.
“It’s hard from what I’ve seen so far to keep Bembry off the floor,” referring to the Raptors new pickup from Atlanta, DeAndre’ Bembry. “[He’s] a utility guy, kind of a bigger guard that could probably shift up positions. He might be guarding a bigger guy at one end, and still bringing up the ball on the floor on the other. He’s shown that he’s a good basketball player, a two-way player.”
Going from nine minutes in the first game, to the second most minutes off the bench outside of rookie sensation Malachi Flynn, Bembry is sure to have a bigger role in the Raptors final preseason game. Nurse has even alluded to Bembry’s inclusion with the starting rotation off the bench, though we’ll see what that comes to mean on a nightly basis.
A Natural Leader
With the absence of Lowry, Fred VanVleet has quickly emerged as the natural leader on the floor for the Raptors. He’s been quick to sing the praises of Flynn, and hasn’t hesitated to provide feedback and direction to help the first-year NBA guard. Meanwhile on the court, VanVleet has emerged as a lethal scoring threat and a potential first option in more scenarios than expected. Dropping 23 points in the Raptors latter game in Charlotte, the undrafted guard who just inked a new 4-year contract could very well average 20+ points this season.
Al lethal threat behind the arc, and a tight handle that’s allowed him to effortless drive through a crowded paint, according to Nurse there’s still one area he’d like to see his fifth-year guard improve in.
“I wish that he would get to the free throw line a little more,” Nurse says in response to the criticism of VanVleet’s efficiency on the drive. “I really feel He gets knocked around a lot, and for whatever reason he doesn’t get a lot of the physicality calls to go shoot free throws.”
VanVleet’s career average attempts at the line sits at a low 1.9 per game. Last season alone he double the mark from the season prior, going from 1.8 visits to the charity stripe, to 3.7, shooting a solid .842 percent throughout his career.
Nurse has a strong point here, and as Fred continues to gain credibility and the status of star players that earns them trips to the line, his attempts will only continue to increase as he evolves into a leader for the Raptors. His leadership will be on display again tonight against a Miami Heat squad that thrives on resilience while going against the best the league has to offer.