Image credit @UnderdogGraphix
Who: Toronto Raptors (47-19) at Miami Heat (31-34)
What: Keeping it Rolling
Where: AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami, Wade County, Florida
When: Sunday, March 10, 2019, 3:30 PM EST (daylight savings time is confusing, where I’m from doesn’t move the clock, forgive me if I get this wrong)
Why: Steal a Win
Injuries: …no one, again?
Kawhi Leonard, who is ruled out against Miami, apparently has some loads to manage that are more important than playing a basketball game. The Heat have won four straight and are digging for five, and this would be a very nice win to get for a team clawing their way into the playoffs.
The Raptors trounced the Pelicans, 127-104, on Friday. Kawhi Leonard had 31, and the poor Pelicans just didn’t stand a chance against the East’s second best team.
The Heat beat the Cavaliers, 126-110, despite a 27-point night from rookie guard Colin Sexton of Cleveland. Justise Winslow was an assist and a rebound short of a triple-double, and Bam Adebayo started while Whiteside came off the bench.
These two teams have met twice before, both within the first couple of months of the season, and the Raptors won both meetings.
With Kawhi Leonard sitting this game out, the Raptors will default to their several other All-Star caliber players to get the win. Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry are established names, and anyone keeping an eye on the NBA has probably heard the name Pascal Siakam by now. He’s not a very well-kept secret anymore, but when the year started, he was relatively unknown. Those three guys combine for 46.4 points per game, lead by Siakam’s 16.4.
The Raptors are 13-5 without Kawhi Leonard. Granted, he only sits against lower-tier teams for rest or if he has to for injury. I think the Raptors are underestimating the Heat here. The Heat could pick up a win if the Raptors are missing their leader in scoring.
The Raptors defense is one of the best in the league, and they even have a better net rating with Leonard off the floor. Leonard is a much better one-on-one defender, but they may work better cohesively without him.
They have plenty of length and athleticism at every position. The keys on offense are to make smart passes, avoid isolation basketball, and try and draw doubles to find the open man. It’ll be tough to crack the Raptors defense, but the drive and kick is something to work with, especially with how well the Heat have been shooting on their four-game winning streak.
Defensively, watch for singular performances. The Raptors have a lot of good scorers, but their wins are usually carried on the back of one guy. It depends on who that guy is, it could be Lowry, Siakam, Gasol, Ibaka. Anybody on that roster is capable of scoring 25 with the right setup. Force guys like Lowry and Siakam to be passers, and keep their athletic bigs off the offensive boards. I know this is a lot to take in, I hope you’re writing this down.
The match-up of the day is Winslow versus Lowry. Justise will have to deal with Lowry, an all-star point guard with a great offensive skill set. Lowry is strong for his size, so it’ll be more difficult for Justise to bully him like he usually does with smaller guys. It’s an intriguing match-up. Watch for it.
Final Score Prediction: 120-108 Raptors (I said they COULD pick up a win, not that they would)
The Raptors play the Cavaliers in Cleveland tomorrow, a game that is probably going to go how everyone expects it to.
The Heat continue their stretch of important games with a game against the Pistons in Miami on Wednesday.
The Heat are still in eighth. The Magic, who play the Grizzlies today, are one game behind them. A Heat loss and Magic win will tie the teams back up for that eight spot. The Hornets are a half-game behind the Magic, but they play the Rockets tomorrow. The Pistons and Nets are still in the six and seven spots, but the Heat could bridge the gap a little today and Wednesday. The Nets play the Pistons tomorrow, which is bound to shake things up. It’s getting interesting.