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 defeated the Raptors 90-89 in their last meeting on Jan. 9. Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 6:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: As far as on the court, how did the return of Dwyane Wade go against the Milwaukee Bucks? 

Couper Moorhead: In many ways Wade’s return wasn’t the story of the game, or at least how the game was won. That designation belonged to Miami’s continued successful defense against Giannis Antetokounmpo, who shot 8-of-21 and never get into any sort of rhythm with James Johnson, Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow stone-walling his drives and the rest of the HEAT’s defenders pinching off the paint. Wade might have saved the game with a block in transition on Eric Bledsoe, but otherwise this was very much an introductory performance for him.

That said, the introduction was encouraging. Nobody is expecting Wade to come out and score 20+ a game, but the relevant question following the trade was how he was going to fit in with a team very much built on a balanced scoring attack. In that sense, Wade taking just six shots and focusing his efforts on finding teammates, rather than feeling pressure to shoulder the offense on his own, was as positive a sign you can find from a game like this. Not only that, but Josh Richardson (12 shots) and Tyler Johnson (16 shots) clearly not feeling a need to defer to the legend, as they would have two years ago, spoke volumes about where they are as players.

There will still be some awkward moments as the team gets acclimated to having such a prolific player again, but everyone so far has both done and said the right things about fitting together.

Joe Beguiristain: The return of Wade went about how you would expect for someone trying to reacclimate to the HEAT’s system. The skills he’s always had were on full display, as the 36-year-old threw up some perfect lobs and came through with a clutch block on Eric Bledsoe as the former Kentucky Wildcat was trying to cut into Miami’s narrow lead. At the end of the day, Wade did a nice job of fitting in and giving the HEAT yet another playmaking weapon. As he gains more chemistry with the guys, things should look even better.

In terms of the game as a whole, Miami played very well on the defensive end and held Milwaukee to just 42.1 percent shooting on the night. As Coup mentioned above, it took a collective effort from Bam Adebayo, James Johnson and Justise Winslow to stifle the Greek Freak.

No excuses. 

2: What’s been behind Toronto’s success this season and what did we learn from Miami’s previous victory over them?

Couper: Explaining why Toronto is good is one of the easiest things in the league these days. Riding a philosophical shift in play style, with more threes, pace and fewer isos, a pair of stars at the heights of their game (DeMar DeRozan in particular has taken his game to a new level) and one of the deepest rosters in the league the Raptors are a Top 5 team on both offense and defense, sporting a net rating that trails only Houston and Golden State. They’re good, and they’re for real.

Miami still beat the Raptors last time out at their place thanks to a Wayne Ellington layup in the final seconds, and that was with the HEAT shooting just 4-of-22 from three. With Kyle Lowry out, it was a defensive slugfest all night as the HEAT slowed the game to a crawl and threw one defender after another at DeRozan (10-of-29 shooting. Most importantly, the HEAT bested most of Toronto’s bench configurations – crucial for any team that wants to hang around with the Raptors.

Joe: If you thought the Raptors were good last season, think again.

DeMar DeRozan Thanks to one of the best second units in the league and a fantastic season from DeMar DeRozan, Toronto is currently the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. 

After primarily taking mid-range jumpers throughout his career, DeRozan has expanded his game and added the three-point shot to his arsenal. In fact, the 28-year-old has already taken 68 more threes than a year ago and is on pace to shatter his previous high of 210 attempted treys in 2013-14. While the bulk of his shots still come from mid-range (where he’s shooting 44.4 percent), DeRozan’s ability to knock it down from beyond the arc makes him tougher to guard night in and night out.

When you combine DeRozan's improved play with the fact that the Raptors’ most-used second unit of Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl has a 32.8 net rating, you start to see why the team is a force to be reckoned with.

3: With Wade in and Kelly Olynyk out for the next couple of days, how do you see Miami’s rotation playing out?

Couper: There’s no easy answer to this question, in part because with Olynyk being such an important part of Miami’s rotation the short term is simply about getting through the next two games with whatever lineups look the best on the given night. Long term, with Wade and Luke Babbitt added, Olynyk hopefully on the mend and Rodney McGruder returning soon-ish (he went through a full practice on Monday), the HEAT suddenly have more capable rotation players than they have regular rotation spots to fill. The only way we can know it will play out is similar to the beginning of any Erik Spoelstra season, where he will experiment with different groups until he lands on something that works.

Joe: While Kelly Olynyk’s absence is huge, the HEAT were able to make it work against the Bucks on Friday. But with him also out on this upcoming back-to-back before the All-Star Break, things will be even tougher. In his stead, we could see Luke Babbitt get some burn off the bench to stretch the floor for Miami.

If I had to guess, I’d say Erik Spoelstra will roll with the same starting lineup as on Friday (Goran Dragić-Tyler Johnson-Josh Richardson-Justise Winslow-Hassan Whiteside) and allocate minutes based on feel/player production.

We’ll see how it all plays out.

HEAT at Raptors Head-to-Head Graphic

Highlights:

Jan. 9 – HEAT at Raptors

April 7 – HEAT at Raptors

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT are 30-26 on the year.
  • The Raptors have won seven of eight and enter the contest at 39-16.
  • Josh Richardson is one of five players in the league to record at least 70 steals and 50 blocks this season.
  • DeMar DeRozan leads Toronto in scoring at 23.9 points per game.

 

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 102.9 (25)
  • HEAT Defense: 104.2 (8)
  • Raptors Offense: 110.5 (4)
  • Raptors Defense: 102.6 (3)