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Miami Heat v Toronto Raptors

The Rap-Up: Quarter-season assessment

The Raptors return to action after a brief In-Season-Tournament-related break with a visit from the GROAT.

Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images

And just like that, 25% of the season is already over!

Toronto has lost to a team poised to be in the lottery (Portland), only to follow that up with a win over a title contender (Milwaukee). They’ve fallen to a surprisingly good defense (Orlando) and defeated an overwhelmingly good offense (Indiana). The Raptors have lost a game where they were up 88-71 in the 4th quarter (Chicago).....and won a game where they were down 88-71 in the 4th quarter (San Antonio)!

Only 5 players* have a lower field goal percentage (39.9%) than Gary Trent Jr. (minimum 300 minutes played and at least 19% usage rate). Jakob Poeltl leads the league in shooting with an incredible 72.9% field goal percentage.

*Ironically, one of those players is Fred VanVleet.

Scottie Barnes is currently making “the leap” towards superstardom. Only 3 players (Victor Wembanyama, Anthony Davis, and Brook Lopez) have more stocks (steals + blocks) than Scottie. With each passing game, Barnes’ confidence grows in every area. He’s averaging 2.0 made threes per game on 5.1 attempts (38.2%). During the championship season, Kawhi Leonard averaged 1.9 made threes per game on 5.0 attempts.

Speaking of the 2018-19 season, that was also the last time Pascal Siakam averaged less than 20 points per game. Spicy P is exactly at 20.0 points, as his numbers across the board have seen a decline while he passes the proverbial torch to Scottie. Siakam is averaging an abysmal 19.8% from three. That’s the lowest percentage, by a wide margin. Pascal’s the only player with a three-point field goal percentage under 20% while attempting at least 4 triples (or 3 triples) per game.

The entire season, to date, has been the embodiment of Thanos’ perfect balance meme. The Raptors are mid!

December 6 vs Miami Heat

I have so many questions about this matchup.

How was ticketing handled for this game? Since the opponent was unknown, what pricing tier did this game fall into? If this game was ‘Tier 1’ (i.e. Lakers, Celtics), do those fans get some sort of a rebate? Did tickets just not go on sale until the opponent was determined?

What happens if a team qualifies for the IST quarterfinals as a lower seed, and then wins on the road to advance to Las Vegas? Wouldn’t that mean they don’t get a 41st home game (like the 22 teams not to qualify and 4 teams to host a quarterfinal)?

Is Jimmy Butler’s hairstyle officially an annual Media Day must-see event? Can this be its own League Pass channel? In fact, can the NBA televise other off-court, but news-worthy occurrences? Post-game workout sessions in the arena’s loading dock? Halftime shows that involve Red Panda?

Fun fact that may only interest me

Heat Culture has done it again! While all eyes are justifiably on Bam Adebayo as the team’s defensive anchor, Miami’s latest undrafted-nobody-turned-rotation-player success story is Haywood Highsmith.

The 6’5 forward with a 7-foot wingspan has been a defensive revelation for Erik Spoelstra. Here’s how the following players have fared with Highsmith as the primary defender:

  • Trae Young: 2-for-6
  • LaMelo Ball: 1-for-6
  • Dejounte Murray: 0-for-1
  • Mikal Bridges: 0-for-1 (over two games)
  • Evan Mobley: 1-for-3
  • Darius Garland: 1-for-4

Prediction

The last time Miami played Toronto without Udonis Haslem on the active roster, one player on each of the current rosters was not born yet (Nikola Jovic and Gradey Dick)!

With the season crossing the quarter-mark, we can ditch the ‘small sample’ asterisk to make more grounded statements such as, this is one of the worst defensive units Erik Spoelstra has coached! This season is only the 2nd in Spoelstra’s 16 seasons as Head Coach of the Heat where his team has a below-average defense. The only other instance was in 2014-15: the season following LeBron James’ departure.

Miami’s transition defense ranks 28th in the league in points allowed per possession (Toronto’s transition offense ranks 1st) off live rebounds. The Heat’s transition defense overall ranks 29th in points allowed per possession (the Raptors’ transition offense ranks 2nd). With Tyler Herro still sidelined with an ankle sprain, Butler will see a whole lot of OG Anunoby! The possibility of a Bam Adebayo-Scottie Barnes matchup in the post is a very tantalizing thought — regardless of who is on offense/defense.

Toronto squeaks out a victory over the GROAT, Kyle Lowry, and his Miami Heat, 108-105.

December 8 @ Charlotte Hornets

It’s December and we’re still being reminded about Fred VanVleet’s decision in July to leave for Houston. Toronto could lose Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, AND Gary Trent Jr. this offseason for nothing. All of that horrendous mismanagement of assets will fall on Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster.....

......and that still wouldn’t be as bad as signing a domestic abuser!

The Hornets have unsurprisingly been one of the worst teams in the league so far. They rank 30th in overall defense, 27th in 3-point defense, 28th in half-court defense, and 26th in transition defense.

The hot debate heading into the NBA Draft was whether or not Charlotte would draft Brandon Miller or Scoot Henderson. Early returns show that the Hornets made the right call. Miller ranks 3rd among all rookies in scoring (14.4 points) while Henderson ranks last in win shares.

Charlotte’s only good player worth watching, LaMelo Ball, suffered a severe ankle sprain last week and will be out for the foreseeable future. Before going down, Ball improved on most of his counting stats from last year’s All-Star campaign. With 75% of games still remaining, it’s going to be a loooooooooong season for Hornets fans.

Fun fact that may only interest me

One way to look at that stat is to be impressed that the Hornets were able to make NBA history (in a positive way, this time) without LaMelo ball in the lineup.

Another way to look at that stat is to wonder why it took a missed three-pointer (wide open, by the way) by Cam Johnson with 2 seconds remaining for the Hornets to secure the victory.

Prediction

Let’s not overthink this. The Raptors’ offense looks its most functional when beating up on bad defenses. Charlotte presents the worst defense they’ve seen all season, plus they’re missing their best player.

Terry Rozier will surely drop 30+ points. Mark Williams will surprise some Raptors viewers by collecting a double-double. PJ Washington will slip free for a rim-rocking dunk.

There’s always the possibility of Toronto laying an egg, but ultimately, they should be able to handle the Hornets’ best punch and quiet the dozens of fans inside Spectrum Center. The Raptors take care of the Hornets, 123-112.

********

Last Week: 1-2

Season Record: 12-8

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