It’s not hard to feel disheartened after Toronto’s loss on Wednesday to the Miami Heat. The Raptors entered the game on a three-game win streak, having just demolished the Dallas Mavericks and appearing to have turned a corner in this young 2020-21 season. On top of that, the Heat were missing both Jimmy Butler, their lodestar, and Tyler Herro, their rocket fuel. As we’ve learned over the years, a game against the coach Erik Spoelstra-era Heat is never easy, even if the team is shorthanded. But we’d hoped — nay, expected — a better showing from the Raptors.
The good news here: the Raptors get an immedate second chance to try again. Yes, thanks to the vagaries of the condensed and travel-curtailed NBA schedule, the Raptors and Heat will face off once again tonight in Tampa. For Toronto (at 5-9), this means a shot at redemption; for Miami (at 6-7) it could mean a return to .500 on their climb up the Eastern Conference standings. That’s as good a narrative as any for a random early season regular season game.
But we have some bad news too. The Raptors didn’t look good against the Heat on Wednesday night. And while there’s reason to believe they can play better tonight and win — there are just as many reasons to assume they can’t and won’t. (Chief among them: Siakam could sit out with a strained groin.) That’s why they play the games, of course. And that’s why we prepare the previews. Here are your details and a few things to keep an eye on.
Where to Watch:
TSN at 7:30pm EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Aron Baynes
Miami – Goran Dragic, Gabe Vincent, Duncan Robinson, Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo
Toronto – Patrick McCaw (knee – out), Pascal Siakam (groin – questionable)
Miami – Jimmy Butler (COVID-19 protocols – out), Avery Bradley (COVID-19 protocols – out), Meyers Leonard (shoulder – out), Tyler Herro (neck – questionable), Goran Dragic (foot – probable), Gabe Vincent (knee – probable), Chris Silva (hip – questionable)
Wake the Squad Back Up (Again)
A glance at the box score from Wednesday night’s game does a good job of illustrating who was producing for the Raptors. OG Anunoby did more than enough with 18 points, seven rebounds, and three assists — all while checking everyone from Goran Dragic to Bam Adebayo. Aron Baynes, meanwhile, got 13 minutes of action as the team’s nominal starter and managed to score exactly one three-pointer. Toronto also got something of a surprise off the bench with Terence Davis suddenly lighting it up for 16 points.
That said, there was a laxness to the Raptors on Wednesday night. Kyle Lowry had an off-night shooting — just 2-of-12 from the field, including 1-of-10 from three — and looked out of it; Fred VanVleet led the team with 24 points but got hassled quite a bit for his troubles; and while Siakam did drop 18 (including a couple jumpers from what the broadcast called “Serge’s Spot”), he did not assert his will on the game. And as noted, Siakam may not even play tonight with a strained groin. In all, Toronto once again needs a shot in the arm, something to wake them up and get them running their plays and defense with sharpness — and not a little reckless abandon. Can they muster it in time for tonight?
Busting the Zone (Yes, Again)
We don’t have to re-litigate the inability of Toronto’s current iteration to play defense with the same crispness as last year’s squad. The roster just doesn’t quite have the juice to operate in the same way — be it because of a loss in veteran know-how, or just a lack of familiarity of what’s being asked. Anyway, I digress.
The concern I’d like to note here for the Raptors is on offense. The Heat, a well-coached and smart team, had the book on Toronto in a couple of ways. First, they used their zone to get the Raptors entirely out of their comfort, uh, place. And then when it became clear few Raps were looking to even try to drive into the paint — and with Bam looming, I can understand the thinking — Miami was emboldened to really get into their one-on-one coverages. Toronto generated threes, sure, but without the penetration into the lane, they couldn’t get Miami scrambled enough on defense to produce efficient looks from anywhere on the floor. The Heat were the more short-handed team, down a few rotation players and their star in Butler, and yet it was the Raptors who looked exhausted by the end. And you’d best believe Miami will put forth the same effort tonight — and use a similar game plan until Toronto proves they can break it.
Rotating the Rotation (Yes, Once Again)
Toronto’s are locked in, though with Siakam’s status current listed as questionable, someone else could get into the opening lineup at power forward. Any guesses? Meanwhile, does Baynes get a longer or shorter run against Adebayo? Is coach Nick Nurse settling into the idea of Norman Powell, Chris Boucher, and Davis as the team’s sixth, seventh, and eighth men — as we sort of knew would be the case — or will Stanley Johnson and Yuta Watanabe be given more of a chance instead? Also, what the heck happened to Matt Thomas? (You’d better also believe we have some thoughts on that.)
Look, I don’t have any answers here. Heading into the season I felt like the Raptors had an interesting bench of players, dudes who could fill various roles at different times. But so far this season, as usually happens with reserves, the team’s bench hass been wildly inconsistent. Boucher looked amazing for bit, then very mortal on Wednesday night. Thomas was once the solution to many problems, now, suddenly, he is the problem. We were all ready to write Davis off (and with good reason), but there he was keeping Toronto afloat in the last game. I don’t necessary envy Nurse in his efforts to figure out how to solve this rotation issue. We’ll just see how he puts the team into play tonight.