After pulling out a thriller in the dying seconds of a game that had no business being close, the Toronto Raptors head south for the final night of their back to back against the Miami Heat. The Raptors have been hard pressed to find any success against the team, getting their first victory in five years against them at home last March. The last time the Raptors were able to score a W at the American Airlines Arena since November 2008.
There are many other storylines besides history that bring intrigue to this matchup. After barely escaping Orlando with a win, the Raptors now hold the third spot in the Eastern Conference over the ever pesky Chicago Bulls. With a victory tonight, the Raptors would not only tie their franchise record 48 wins, they would clinch home court advantage in the first round and put some separation between themselves and the Bulls, positioning them for a more favourable matchup with the sixth seed.
Tonight’s game is as important a game as can be for the Heat as they currently sit two games behind the Brooklyn Nets for the eighth and final playoff spot. A loss for them tonight would likely mean curtains on their season.
The Raptors will be heading into the game short handed as Amir Johnson remains out for what is presumed to be the remainder of the regular season with an ankle injury. The Raptors will also be without Terrence Ross who turned his ankle in the late stages of last night’s game.
Cage’s Keys to the Game:
Keep focus defensively:
The Heat are a far cry from the offensive force they once were with the departure of LeBron James as well as the season ending illness of Chris Bosh. The Heat place bottom five rankings in points per game and assists, despite trading for guard Goran Dragic at the trade deadline. As seen last night however, no team in the NBA can ever be taken for granted no matter their spot in the standings or their circumstances. The Raptors need to bring the same intensity and desire that they brought this past Wednesday against an equally offensively challenged team in the Hornets.
D-up on D-Wade:
While father time and a whole lot of basketball have left Dwayne Wade a shadow of the generational talent he once was, the 12 year veteran always seems to bring it against Toronto. The last time the two teams linked up, Wade put up 25 points on 9-13 shooting and the game before almost amassed a triple double. While he is one of the lone offensive threats on this depleted Heat squad, Wade has shown in the past that his contributions alone can make a huge difference.
Last night the Raptors struggled offensively against a bad defensive squad in the Magic, only putting up 41.5% from the field while coughing up the ball 16 times. While the Heat can’t score, they are a stifling defensive squad, holding teams to just over 97 points per game. The Raptors need to move the ball and make open looks or they will be in for a grind it out matchup.
X-Factor: Jonas Valanciunas
The big Lithuanian is a key for the Raptors’ offensive efficiency, polling at fourth in the NBA in field goal percentage. That same efficiency was missed last night as he went only 3-7 from the field.
The last time these two teams played, Valanciunas was given the night off after the birth of his son. Something to watch for will be how he will respond to the length and rim protection provided by the surprising Hassan Whiteside. Valanciunas has fared well against bigger, more traditional bigs. How he fares tonight could prove to be the difference.