The Miami HEAT face the Toronto Raptors Friday night at Air Canada Centre. The HEAT fell to the Raptors 101-84 in their last meeting on March 23. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 7:00 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: What was most impressive to you about Miami’s hugely important win at Charlotte?
Couper Moorhead: It’s tough to pick between the HEAT hitting 21 threes on 40 attempts and . . . no, it’s the HEAT hitting 21 threes on 40 attempts. In what was their latest biggest game of the season, with Charlotte poised to leap back into the playoff race with a victory, the HEAT managed to come up with the single best three-point shooting game in franchise history. How’s that for timing?
They weren’t all wide-open shots. Charlotte does tend to allow perimeter catches considering how disciplined they are at defending the paint, but until the floodgates opened in the final minutes the Hornets did fairly well closing out on and contesting shooters. Even looking at only their threes, Miami’s expected effective field-goal percentage was just slightly under their mark for the entire season. They had to make some tough looks, and make them they did. It’s not the sort of performance you can always count on having, but it certainly came at the perfect time.
Also, if you’re keeping track, in the last three years the HEAT have set the marks for most efficient offensive game in franchise history, highest individual scoring game in franchise history (LeBron James) and most threes in a single game in franchise history. All against Charlotte.
Joe Beguiristain: The HEAT’s remarkable shooting performance made it a night to remember, but the team’s overall demeanor was quite impressive. In what was a huge game with major playoff implications, Miami came out with a laser-sharp focus and business-like approach. While five HEAT players scored in double-figures, it was Goran Dragić who really got things started off on the right foot. From beginning to end, the Slovenian kept the pressure on Charlotte and led the way with 33 points on 13-of-21 shooting, including 5-of-9 from deep.
That said, Miami wouldn’t have been victorious without James Johnson, who shined on both ends of the floor in his first start of the season. From a fantastic hustle play in defensive transition against Nicolas Batum to a steal on Kemba Walker down the stretch, the forward did it all. Of course, he also set a career high with six made 3-pointers.
In addition to the HEAT making history with their 21 threes, Hassan Whiteside also etched his name in the record books with his 54th double-double, which set the single-season franchise record.
Simply put, it was one heck of a performance from top to bottom.
2: What can we take from the previous game against Toronto headed into tonight?
Couper: Everyone will remember DeMar DeRozan dropping 40 points on what were some incredibly tough shots, even for him. But the bigger story was that after a hot start, the HEAT struggled to score as Toronto found another defensive gear and made every Miami shot a difficult shot. Part of that is because Toronto, with their recent acquisitions of Serge Ibaka (who didn’t play in the last game) and P.J. Tucker have as many or more players than the HEAT who can defend multiple positions with strength and speed. That takes away from some of Miami’s usual advantages with James Johnson, Hassan Whiteside and Willie Reed in the middle of the floor. On top of that, the issue was exacerbated by the HEAT’s 16 turnovers. Cleaning up the execution can take you a long way.
The Raptors also didn’t have Kyle Lowry in that last game. He’s back now, without a minutes limit, leaving Toronto in as healthy a state as they have been all season. Just another big game against a very good team.
Joe: In that last matchup on March 23, Toronto used a 13-3 run at the beginning of the fourth quarter to take a 17-point lead with a little under seven minutes to play. Although Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson fought hard to try and narrow the gap, it just wasn’t enough in the end. As a whole, the Raptors have a lot of depth at key positions, and that caused some issues for the HEAT throughout the contest.
This time around, Miami also has to worry about Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry. Ibaka was out for that last meeting due to a one-game suspension, while Lowry was rehabbing his right wrist after undergoing surgery. Since Lowry missed 21 games, you’d think he would look a little rusty in his return to action. On the contrary, the bullish guard scored 27 points on 9-of-16 shooting, dished out 10 assists and nabbed two steals on Wednesday against the Pistons.
While things will be tough, the HEAT never back down from a challenge. We’ll see how things play out on Friday night.
3: With four games left, what does the playoff picture currently look like?
Couper: While many fans lamented the recent losses to both New York and Denver, the reality is that while those were by no means good losses, the HEAT got the two most important games of the last stretch in beating both Detroit and Charlotte on the road. Because not only did those games keep Miami in the fight for one of the final playoff seeds, it effectively knocked both the Pistons and Hornets out of contention themselves (538 projections give both teams less than a one percent chance of making the playoffs as of Thursday). In other words, the HEAT have controlled the field, leaving them less at risk of suffering the consequences of chaos and randomness.
With Chicago, Indiana and Miami all grouped up for those final two spots, there’s still more winning to be done. The HEAT have the toughest remaining schedule of those teams left and any one loss could have significant ramifications on the race, but given how this season has gone, why expect anything to be easy?
Joe: With Chicago and Indiana both winning on Thursday night, the Bulls stayed put at No. 7 and the Pacers leapfrogged the HEAT for the final playoff spot in the East. Additionally, the Hawks supplanted the Bucks for the No. 5 seed after defeating the Celtics.
Even though the HEAT have a tough road ahead (at Raptors, at Wizards, vs. Cavaliers, vs. Wizards), they’ve risen to the occasion quite often throughout this season. Regardless of what’s been thrown in Miami’s path, the team has always found a way to block out the noise and focus on the task at hand. Above all else, that mentality has been the driving force in the HEAT’s improbable playoff push.
March 23-Raptors at HEAT
March 11-Raptors at HEAT
- The HEAT have won three of five and are 38-40.
- The Raptors have won 9 of 11 and stand at 48-31.
- Goran Dragić is averaging 25.0 points and 5.6 assists per game on 51.2 percent shooting over his last five.
- DeMar DeRozan leads Toronto in scoring at 27.0 points per game.
- HEAT Offense: 105.2 (16)
- HEAT Defense: 104.2 (5)
- Raptors Offense: 109.9 (5)
- Raptors Defense: 105.2 (9)