Toronto Raptors at Miami HEAT Game Preview

Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon

The Miami HEAT host the Toronto Raptors Sunday afternoon at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! Tip-off is set for 3:30 PM, and television coverage is on FOX Sports Sun. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: How were the HEAT able to pull away from the Cavaliers late in the game?

Couper Moorhead: The Cavaliers just never had an answer for Miami’s move-the-ball offense. Cleveland managed to hang around and even take a four-point lead in the third quarter because they were hitting just about every jumper and floater that they put up, but once those makes started to dry out towards the end of the third the HEAT’s relatively better and more consistent offensive opportunities started to slowly but surely extend the lead. Sure, you aren’t going to have wild possessions like Rodney McGruder scoring seven points before Cleveland touched the ball again, but this was just one of those games where Miami’s solid process wore down the opponent and eventually won the game for them in convincing fashion. The schedule gets much tougher from here on out, but beating the Cavaliers finished off a hugely important stretch for the HEAT in games they needed to win.

Joe Beguiristain: Although Kevin Love started off hot and the Cavaliers as a whole played pretty hard, the HEAT just stuck to their principles and got whatever they wanted inside. As a matter of fact, Miami recorded 52 points in the paint and had eight players score in double-figures, with “The Kids” (Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow) leading the way.

In particular, Winslow did his usual “Swiss Army Knife” work and flirted with a triple-double, J. Rich stretched the floor and competed hard defensively, while Adebayo crushed the rim and showed quick feet on the other end.

Speaking of defense, Kelly Olynyk continued his recent onslaught in the HEAT’s zone scheme with 10 contested shots and a team-high four deflections.

“We want to take advantage of [Olynyk’s] off-ball help-side defense as much as possible, but that’s taken some time to be able to find ways to do that against different opponents,” Erik Spoelstra said after Saturday’s practice. “And you really have to credit KO for that commitment.”

At the end of the day, the HEAT took care of business and defeated a team they were supposed to beat, but how they did so was encouraging.

Dwyane Wade2: What have we learned about this matchup so far this season?

Couper: The first game was effectively a wire-to-wire, commanding victory for Toronto that only sort of got close in the end behind one of Dwyane Wade’s best games of the season as he dropped in 35 points. The second outing, just after Christmas, was much different with Miami taking a 17-point lead and Toronto working its way back in the second half behind a flurry of threes, capped off by the rare late-game HEAT defensive mistake when Danny Green was left open in the corner and his three put the Raptors up by two. Still, as Miami has shown in at least one game against most of the best teams in the league this year, they’re more than capable of competing with just about anyone and have a habit of raising the level of their game to the quality of their opponent. The Raptors and their depth, which neutralizes Miami’s typical bench advantages to a degree, have given them problems, but both teams are also in different places right now as far as rotations and rosters go.

Joe: We’ve learned that Toronto is a pretty good team.

In all seriousness, the Raptors are among the league’s elite for a reason. Not only do they possess one of the best two-way players in the game in Kawhi Leonard (though he is out on Sunday due to load management), but they also have incredible depth, strong defenders and highly-capable playmakers across their roster.

And while that’s shown in the two previous matchups between Miami and Toronto, the HEAT have had their moments here and there. As Coup mentioned above, Dwyane Wade went off in the first meeting on Nov. 25 (as did Adebayo, who had a career-high 21 boards), however Winslow really stood out against the Raptors on Dec. 26. In addition to scoring nine points on 4-of-5 shooting in the fourth quarter of that last matchup, Winslow also did his thing on the defensive end.

We’ll see what happens this time around.

3: How will the addition of Marc Gasol change this game?

Couper: The first question is whether or not Gasol will start. Coach Nick Nurse has been changing up his starting lineup all year depending on the opponent and Gasol has started against bigger centers like Andre Drummond, but with Hassan Whiteside currently coming off the bench it’s possible that Nurse goes with Serge Ibaka against Bam Adebayo and leaves Gasol in the second unit. Either way, it doesn’t change the fact that the Raptors made one of the biggest acquisitions at the trade deadline when they moved Jonas Valančiūnas and Delon Wright to Memphis, and even though Toronto hasn’t quite had the defensive numbers they’re probably looking for when Gasol has played, he remains one of the smartest defensive players in the league and his ability to act as an offensive hub, and take some playmaking pressure off of Kawhi Leonard, is reflected in the fact that he has the highest offensive rating on the team right now. With Jeremy Lin filling in for the traded Wright and injured Fred VanVleet, the Raptors are fairly close to full strength right now and are an excellent challenge for a HEAT team that has been playing its best ball of the season.

Joe: Regardless of Gasol starts or not, he’ll definitely add a new wrinkle to this matchup.

Jonas Valančiūnas was a solid post-up player and roll man for Toronto, but Gasol brings that plus the ability to create for his teammates. In 10 games thus far with his new team, the 34-year-old Spaniard is averaging 9.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists per contest on 47.0 percent shooting. And above all else, the chemistry he’s built with Kyle Lowry in such a short period of time has been quite impressive. Case in point: the Raptors are scoring 110.5 points per 100 possessions with the duo on the floor (167-minute sample size).

It’ll be interesting to see how Gasol and Lowry continue to mesh as the playoffs inch closer.

Raptors at HEAT Head To Head

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT have dropped the previous two matchups with the Raptors this season.
  • Miami has won five of six and is 31-34, while Toronto has dropped two of three and enters the contest at 47-19.
  • Dwyane Wade needs 11 points to reach 1,000 against the Raptors in his career.
  • Serge Ibaka leads Toronto in rebounds (8.1) and blocks (1.4) per game.

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 107.2 (23)
  • HEAT Defense: 107.5 (8)
  • Raptors Offense: 112.2 (6)
  • Raptors Defense: 107.3 (7)

For live in-game updates of Sunday’s contest, follow @MiamiHEAT, @CoupNBA and @JoeBeguiristain on Twitter.

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