For good or ill, the Toronto Raptors are entrenched in a particularly road-heavy part of their schedule. Tonight’s matchup against the Miami Heat in Florida is their second game on this three-game trip, and then after three at home, eight of their next nine are on the road. All told that’s 11 out of 15 games away from Scotiabank Arena.
Normally that would take a pretty hard toll on a team, but the Raptors, of course, are in a unique situation in that their home games are being played in an empty arena — a situation Nick Nurse said the other day was a pretty tough one. Playing in front of fans on the road might be rejuvenating! Especially when getting out of Toronto means getting away from freezing temperatures and giant piles of snow.
Warm temps aside, playing in Miami isn’t easy — the Heat are 17-5 at home. But the Heat are on the second night of a back-to-back, the Raptors are on two full days’ rest, and the Raps nearly stole one in Miami two weeks ago. Can they close the deal tonight?
Where to Watch:
TSN, 8:00PM ET
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby
Miami — Gabe Vincent, Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Duncan Robinson, P.J. Tucker
Toronto — Fred VanVleet (knee – questionable), Khem Birch (nose – out), Isaac Bonga (G League – out), Goran Dragic (personal – out)
Miami — Kyle Lowry (personal – questionable), Markieff Morris (return to competition reconditioning – questionable), KZ Okpala (wrist – out), Victor Oladipo (knee – out)
Where’s Mr. Raptor?
We haven’t yet received official word his status for tonight, but the Heat have been without Kyle Lowry for their previous six games, as he’s been away from the team for personal reasons. At first it looked like he skipped the previous Heat-Raps game to attend the Philadelphia Eagles playoff game, but he hasn’t been back since. There’s no official word as to why, so we can only wish Kyle and his family our best and hope all is well.
The thing is, as much as I love watching Kyle play, I still don’t know if I’m ready to watch him play against the Raptors. I’m not ready to see him hit PU3ITs against a retreating transition D, draw a charge from Pascal Siakam, or knock a ball loose from Scottie Barnes in the post. I’m not ready to be annoyed by all the things I used to love seeing him do to other teams!
Whenver that moment comes, and it inevitably will, it’s gonna come with a lot of conflicting emotions. If anything, if it can happen in April in Toronto, and if the arena can hold fans again then, seeing the reception he gets should at least offset it.
Hold the line
The Toronto Raptors give up 34 3-point attempts per game, and opponents have been shooting the three at a 36% clip against them. The Miami Heat have five players who shoot better than 36% from the field, and they combine for 29 attempts per game. This math does not appear to favour Toronto!
The Raptors have struggled to successfully replicate their collapse/recover/close-out scheme since the 2019-20 season, and a team with multiple high-volume threats is well-positioned to take advantage of it.
And then of course there’s Bam Adebayo, not exactly a traditional big man, but certainly bigger than the Raptors’ current frontline. Adebayo only scored 14 points on 12 shots the last time these two teams met, but that was his first game back after missing 22 games with a thumb injury. Expect a bigger game from Bam tonight.
Sixth Man on lock
Miami’s Tyler Herro is currently topping the Vegas leaderboards for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award, and that’s no surprise, given the numbers: The third-year guard is averaging 21-5-4, and shooting 39% from downtown on almost seven attempts per game. The award is his to lose, it seems.
What is surprising, at least to me, is that he’s here at all. I honestly thought his successful rookie season was a bit of a fluke; I though he benefitted from the attention that Butler and Adebayo demand, and I though defenses would adjust to him. I didn’t think he was quick enough or could handle it enough to make a real impact long-term.
Well, I was definitely wrong about all of that! The kid is just plain good, a hooper if you will, and there’s a whole heck of a lot more to his game than shooting. (Although he is only shooting 45% on two-pointers.)
The Raptors have the players to guard a guy like Herro, but given their collapse-and-recover scheme, he’s also exactly the sort of player they have trouble guarding (see: the previous matchup, when he scored 23, but only attempted three 3-pointers). Don’t be surprised to see Herro get his stats and more tonight.