The Toronto Raptors (15-26) begin a mini-two game road trip in Florida against the Miami Heat (26-12).
After winning the 2012 NBA Championship last year, the Heat have been relatively quiet this season. They acquired Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis this past summer and have kept the winning going. LeBron James is a perennial MVP candidate and Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are still playing like all-stars.
The Heat employ a small-ball system with James at forward and Shane Battier or Udonis Haslem at the other forward spot. This leaves Bosh playing center usually. This is extremely advantageous for the Heat as they can easily switch defenders on possessions, hence their elite defence. Also note that they recently signed athletic shot blocker Chris Anderson who should make it into their bigman rotation.
This game will not be easy for the Raptors (you can say that over again).
The Cage’s 5 Keys to the Game:
1. Slow down LeBron James
Easier said than done. We all know James is capable of 27 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists on any given night. He is the best player in the world and has his way against other wing players. Landry Fields, Alan Anderson, DeMar DeRozan and even Mickael Pietrus are going to have their hands full tonight.
2. Ball Movement
The Heat have elite pick-and-roll defense due their ability to switch defenders on possessions. Their defenders also like to pressure the ball-handler forcing tough shots or turnovers. To alleviate this, the Raptors will have to rely on solid ball movement from all players. The Heat want to force their opponents into tough, long shots or isolated plays.
3. Pound the Rock Inside
The Heat have a small front court and thus have rebounding issues. They also have issues protecting the paint. But that’s only if their opponents can even make it inside the paint. If the Raptors can use effective ball movement as stated above, they’ll be able to create easy looks for Ed Davis and Amir Johnson. Getting both players going early will be important.
4. Close Out On Shooters
The Heat (broken record?) like to surround their stars with elite shooters for easy looks. Allen, Battier, Lewis, Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller are all dangerous shooting threats. The Raptors cannot let any of them get it going.
5. DeMar DeRozan
Will he finally be able to get it going? DeRozan has been abyssal this month and won’t have it easier tonight with Wade, LeBron and Battier all ready to check him on the wing. The Heat don’t have proper net protection due to lack of a true center (unless Anderson gets some burn). DeRozan needs to attack the paint relentlessly in order to get easy baskets and his confidence back.
Tonight’s X-Factor will be Kyle Lowry. Jose Calderon’s efficient pick-and-roll play will be nullified thanks to the Heat’s elite defense so the Raptors will need Lowry to attack with drive-and-kicks or attack the basket himself. This will be a tough game regardless but Lowry’s play will be key.
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