The Miami HEAT face the Toronto Raptors Sunday night at Scotiabank Arena. Tip-off is set for 6:00 PM, and television coverage is on FOX Sports Sun. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: What did you like about Miami’s losing-streak ending victory in Chicago?
Couper Moorhead: There’s only so much we can say about a win over one of the league’s most depleted rosters, especially one in which that roster nearly made a 26-point comeback, but you still have to credit the HEAT for taking care of their business. What was most interesting about this game was that Erik Spoelstra opted to close the game with a lineup of Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder, Wayne Ellington, Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo, trusting his young players to find a way. And they did, with Josh Richardson hitting five jumpers in the closing six minutes to hold off Chicago’s run and seal the game. It wasn’t necessarily Miami’s most dynamic offense given that Richardson was pulling up over the top of the Bulls’ defense – but all that’s really important at this stage is that Richardson was hunting for and taking the shots at all. There will be tougher challenges ahead and games like this offer a nice bit of prep work.
Joe Beguiristain: I liked Miami’s ability to block out the noise and make big plays down the stretch to hold on to a much-needed victory. And while Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow played well (they each recorded a double-double, which marked the first time in franchise history that two players did that off the bench on the road), the night belonged to Josh Richardson.
Richardson led the HEAT with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the fourth and answered with a bucket nearly every time the Bulls narrowed the deficit. With that performance factored in, J. Rich is now averaging a team-high 6.2 points per game in the fourth quarter on a 61.7 true shooting percentage.
2: How are the Toronto Raptors different this year?
Couper: Toronto’s big move this offseason was to trade DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. The Raptors had been one of the Eastern Conference’s better teams for the past few years yet had consistently run up against the wall in the postseason known as LeBron James. So, they shook up the core of their team to add one of the best players in the league. Leonard, back and healthy again after an injury-plagued final season in San Antonio, is playing as well as ever as he’s stabilized Toronto’s balanced offense and had his usual defensive impact. Don’t discount Toronto adding Danny Green as part of that same deal, though. Green has long been one of the league’s premier role players and he adds to an already deep roster of dynamic two-way players. This Raptors group has very few weaknesses.
Toronto also parted ways with longtime coach Dwane Casey and hired Nick Nurse, who has shifted the starting lineup a little by often starting Serge Ibaka at center alongside the much-improved Pascal Siakam – unless he’s found a need for more size, which may be the case Sunday night against Hassan Whiteside, and then gone back to Jonas Valanciunas.
Joe: As Coup mentioned above, the Raptors’ biggest move was trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan and young big Jakob Poeltl along with a a 2019 first-round pick for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Of course, Leonard has been his usual stout self on both ends of the floor (he leads Toronto in points, rebounds and steals per game), but Green has been really good too and actually leads the league with a 17.7 net rating. Above all else though, both guys bring a championship pedigree from their time with the Spurs that should come in handy once the postseason arrives.
And when you also factor in Kyle Lowry’s continued strong play (he leads the league with 10.5 assists per game and is also among the league’s elite in offensive rating at 118.8) and Pascal Siakam’s emergence (the power forward is averaging career highs across the board and has posted a 67.4 true shooting percentage this season), it becomes clear why the Raptors are one of the best teams in the NBA.
3: Where will Miami need to find some offense against one of the league’s best defensive teams?
Couper: If you visualized the changes to their lineups that we mentioned in the previous section, you probably understand why Toronto has been an elite team at defending both the rim and the three-point line. They might not quite be the Milwaukee Bucks as far as their length, but they are close and they get after it defensively, doing so without fouling. You don’t want to compromise your own offense by playing into Toronto’s hands and attacking the mid-range, but reality is that that’s where the bulk of opponent scoring has come from against this team. At the very least, the HEAT will need to hit those intermediate shots when they become available, because the Raptors make it very, very tough to count on a modern shot profile.
The good news? Their numbers may be skewed a little bit because of some lineup inconsistency – Leonard has been out for rest in some games – but Toronto has so far been one of the weaker defensive rebounding teams in the league. So even if Miami isn’t at their most efficient Sunday night, they can make up for it by giving themselves second and third chances at a possession.
Joe: Although Toronto does a great job of limiting above-the-break threes, the team is susceptible from the corners. In addition to giving up 4.1 left-corner treys per game at a 37.8 percent clip, the Raptors also allow 4.0 right-corner threes per contest at a 39.2 percent rate.
So what does all this mean for the HEAT?
Simply put, they need to move the ball like they did against the Bulls on Friday. And while the difference in the competition on the other side is stark, Miami can still work its habits and make sure the ball isn’t sticking. With Goran Dragić out versus Chicago, James Johnson kept the offense moving early on before Winslow and Richardson did their thing late.
The one caveat with all this is that the HEAT need to be careful with their passes since the Raptors average 19.3 points per game off turnovers.
No matter how you slice it, it’ll be a tough one on the road for Miami.
- The HEAT won two of three against the Raptors last season.
- Miami is 7-11, while Toronto is 16-4 and on a four-game winning streak.
- Josh Richardson leads the HEAT in scoring at 20.5 points per game.
- Kawhi Leonard leads Toronto in points (24.4), rebounds (8.4) and steals (1.8) per contest.
- Tyler Johnson (Right Hamstring Strain), Goran Dragić (Right Knee Injury) and Dion Waiters (Left Ankle Surgery) did not travel with the team and are all out.
- HEAT Offense: 105.1 (25)
- HEAT Defense: 106.4 (8)
- Raptors Offense: 113.2 (3)
- Raptors Defense: 104.9 (7)