Miami HEAT at Toronto Raptors Game Preview

Photo Credit: Ron Turenne

The Miami HEAT face the Toronto Raptors Tuesday night at Air Canada Centre. The HEAT fell to the Raptors 96-94 in their last meeting on April 7. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 7:00 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: What was your main takeaway from Miami’s nail-biting victory over Utah on Sunday?

Couper Moorhead: As exciting as the finish was to this one, this probably wasn’t the game to reveal any new truths about the HEAT. As Erik Spoelstra said afterwards, it wasn’t exactly a perfectly played game with Utah on the verge of pulling away down the stretch. But as they’ve done so many times this season when they weren’t at their best, the HEAT found a way to pull ahead at just the right time. As he did late against Orlando, Spoelstra put as much shooting on the floor as possible in the last five minutes and asked Goran Dragić to go to work. With that hyper-floor spacing, Dragić ran one side pick-and-roll after another, getting into the paint against a backpedaling big man where he could score or find the open man (Kelly Olynyk has been a beneficiary of this all week). And defensively they did their thing, pressuring the ball – Richardson forcing a turnover on Donovan Mitchell might have been the play of the game – and finding opportunities in transition. We didn’t learn much new about Miami on Sunday, but that’s partially because they’ve found success being consistent.

Joe Beguiristain: Above all else, it was good to see the HEAT make enough plays down the stretch to come away with the win. As Coup mentioned above, that’s been Miami’s M.O. pretty much all season long. While nearly every player made their presence felt in the victory (six HEAT players scored in double-figures), the day belonged to Josh Richardson.

The emerging 24-year-old simply continued his torrid run that he's been on since December and led Miami with seven points on 3-of-5 shooting in the fourth quarter, including the game-winning layup with 5.1 seconds left. On the flip side of the ball, he led the team with five deflections and also contested 13 shots against Utah.

All in all, the HEAT have proven to be a strong-willed team that knows how to respond to adversity. Although part of that has to do with all they went through last season, Richardson’s improvement, Wayne Ellington’s hot shooting and Kelly Olynyk’s versatility have all played a major role.

2: How are the Raptors different this year and how are they playing?

Couper: Remember how Detroit had drastically changed its offense this season, adding more dribble handoffs to their system? Well the Raptors have undergone an even simpler, but just as significant change. A year ago, just 28.9 percent of their shots came from three, No. 22 in the league. This year they’re at 37 percent, good for a rank of No. 6. What’s been incredible about the Raptors of the past few years is they’ve always managed an incredibly efficient offense without taking many threes, so now that they are taking more high-value shots they’ve effectively reached Cleveland levels of efficiency. For a team that’s always defended well, and has plenty of options for different coverages and schemes, that’s led Toronto to the second-best net rating in the league at plus-7.6.

So, yes, at 28-10 the Raptors sit third overall in the entire league, having lost just one game at home out of 15. They’re good, to put it lightly, and they’re also incredibly versatile. For as good as Miami’s depth is, Toronto’s bench might be the best in the league.

What’s a good example of their depth? How about this: Not a single player that has played at least 10 minutes for the Raptors this season has a Net Rating below 0. Somehow, every single player on this team is in the positive.

Joe: While the Raptors are still led by their dynamic duo in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, they made some changes to their frontcourt over the offseason. With DeMarre Carroll, P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson elsewhere, Head Coach Dwane Casey has allocated those minutes to rookie OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and C.J. Miles among others. As Coup alluded to above, all those guys bring something different to the table and can play on both ends of the floor. In particular, Anunoby has really turned some heads with the best net rating on the team (14.4) among regular rotation players.

When you factor in DeRozan’s newfound willingness to take 3-pointers (he’s shooting 50.9 percent from deep on 5.3 attempts per game over his last 10 outings), it makes sense that Toronto has won 11 of 13 coming into Tuesday night’s matchup. 

3: What unique challenges do the Raptors present to Miami?

Couper: It’s their versatility. A major part of Miami’s recent four-game winning streak has been not just late-game execution, but an ability to change up lineups to throw the opponent off. At one point or another, each of the past four opponents was forced to adjust to a new lineup or offensive look Spoelstra threw out on the floor. 

With Toronto, the HEAT will be facing one of the teams most comfortable with changing up looks on the fly. The Raptors can play big or small, they can play conservatively on defense, they can switch or they can be aggressive. They almost always have shooters on the floor with a mix of youth and athleticism and veteran dependability. 

In other words, this is not a team you can easily beat by changing the terms of engagement. And on their home floor, it might be Miami that has to adjust to their opponent.

Joe: It may sound simple, but the Raptors are one of the best all-around teams in the league. For starters, they put a lot of pressure on opposing defenses with their ability to attack the basket. In fact, they’re ranked first with 55.1 drives per 100 possessions thanks in large part to DeRozan. As been the case for much of his career, the 28-year-old vet is one of the league’s elite in that category and shoots a high percentage off those looks. That was on full display Monday against the Nets, as DeRozan scored 14 points in the fourth quarter and overtime period combined to lead Toronto to victory without Lowry for the final minute due to an acute back spasm from a hard fall. As of this writing, Lowry’s status for Tuesday night’s game remains to be seen. [UPDATE: Lowry is out with a bruised tailbone and back spasms.]

Although the Raptors are very strong offensively, they’re also loaded with a bunch of versatile wing defenders like I stated in my second response. As such, Miami will have to continue to move the ball and keep Toronto on its heels with handoffs and off-ball screens.

Long story short, the Raptors will be a great test for the HEAT.  

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Highlights:

April 7 – HEAT at Raptors

Mar. 23 – Raptors at HEAT

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT have won 11 of 15 and are 22-17 on the year.
  • The Raptors have won 11 of 13 and enter the contest at 28-10.  
  • Since Dec. 1, Josh Richardson has averaged 17.5 points per game on 54.1 percent shooting from the field.
  • DeMar DeRozan leads Toronto in scoring at 25.3 points per contest.

 

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 103.7 (22)
  • HEAT Defense: 105.1 (13)
  • Raptors Offense: 110.5 (4)
  • Raptors Defense: 103.0 (6)

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