I’m still stunned; the best performance by a Raptor team I’ve seen in three/four years. If you didn’t know the standings, and that was the first Raptor game you saw this season, you would have thought that this is a top team in the association; that’s the kind of game that was played last night.
It’s harder to duplicate that effort on back-to-back teams, but there is an added element of playing Chris Bosh tonight, which can’t be overlooked. The Raptors have a bit of history with the Magic, and were able to flip the on switch last night. The hustle and tenacity they have showed so far, was there for the whole game. Makes you wonder if this has two speeds: play hard/aggressive for some of the game, play hard/aggressive for all of the game. That switch needs to be on tonight for the whole game; even though the Heat are 5-4, they are mighty dangerous.
What a mess this has become; the basketball is almost taking a back seat to the dog and pony show.
From the vantage point in Miami, it’s actually settling down if you can believe it. Because this team has absolutely no track record even though it’s stacked like a contender, we can expect every single big matchup to be treated like a playoff game. It’s the only measuring stick we have. And outcomes generally stoke the extremes. If they win (Orlando a couple weeks back), supporters will crown them champs. If they lose (Boston on Thursday), skeptics willl revel in schadenfreude and pronounce the Heat paper tigers. It’ll be that way most of the season.
5-4 to start the year wasn’t the result many were predicting, but the fact of the matter is that the big three in Miami was a far different animal than the big three in Boston. What will this team have to do to get back on track?
The adjustments aren’t huge. Right now, they’re 25th in the league in total rebounding differential. LeBron James and Chris Bosh are well below their usual numbers. So that’s number one. Second, they need to buy into a defensive strategy and stick to it. Erik Spoelstra generally subscribes to a Popovichian approach, but over the past week, there’s very little evidence of that on the floor. The Jazz and Hornets shredded the Heat on rotations, and Boston lured them into silly gambles and exploited them on pushed balls. Take care of those two things and the Heat will stat winning 75 percent of their games.
It was generally assumed that Bosh’s production would drop offensively, but his whole game has seemingly gone south fuelling a lot of folks up here to argue that he was just a selfish stat stuffer during his time in Toronto. What are your impressions about Bosh as a person and player after watching him closely for the last couple months? How does he get back on track?
I’m not sure that Bosh put up gaudy numbers in Toronto because he was selfish so much as he was the single best matchup on the floor on every possession, and the Raptors fashioned their entire offense around that principle. That’s simply not the case in Miami. With the Raptors, he had a 5-man who lured the other big away from the block, whereas he’s getting no help in that capacity except when Ilgauskas is on the court. He needs to put the ball on the floor more and stop ball-watching when shots go up. Personally, he’s been very, very confessional about his struggles. He’s admitted the speed of James and Dwyane Wade have made him skittish and that he’s been more deferential than he probably should be. Ironically, the best prescription for Bosh might be to a more selfish stat-stuffer when he’s got a favorable matchup and the ball comes to him at the weak side elbow. Those are *his* possessions and he should own them.
Does Wade have what it will take to let LeBron become the alpha dog on his team?
It’s tricky because, on balance, this team is putting up the offensive numbers it needs to. They’re putting up 108.5 points per 100 possessions, which tells us that except for a few stretches when the ball stops, they’re doing fine. Both guys need to get more comfortable working off the ball. LeBron did this in Cleveland, but it was with the understanding that nobody was going to supplant him as the focal point in the offense. Wade has less practice with it, but Spoelstra is running some nice sets where Wade darts up from the weak side corner past a couple of stagger screens or gets a handoff from Bosh at the pinch post. To me, it’s no so much a need for a defined Alpha and Beta as it is James and Wade coming to a mutual understanding that the team can kill it if each of them starts doing more productive work off the ball to scramble the defense.
If you could add somebody to this team in the offseason, who would it be?
What they need is a Marcus Camby (who is unavailable) — rebounder/shot blocker who doesn’t need the ball, but can keep it moving and make plays.There aren’t a lot of players like that available. But a healthy Joel Przybilla could help. Tyson Chandler will be a free agent, but he might be out of their price range and is also susceptible to injuries.
Linas Kleiza – Achilles, Day-to-day
Ed Davis – Out
Leandro Barbosa – Out
David Andersen – Pretty sure he’s out again
Mike Miller – Thumb, Out
PG – Jack/Calderon vs Arroyo/Chalmers
Since the Heat have both Wade and LeBron who handle the ball so much, the point guard situation for them is interesting. Neither Arroyo or Chalmers are big components of this team, with the bulk of their contributions coming on the defensive end, checking the opponents point guards. Offensively, they are reduced to hitting open jumpers/threes when they get them, and generally not screwing up. This should be an area of focus for the Raptors tonight, since the Heat struggle when they play teams with solid point guard play. Both Jack and Calderon are settling into a rotation that saw both struggle to start the season. Jack will need to continue attacking off the dribble, while Calderon has to maintain his control over the flow of the game offensively, feeding off the pick-n-roll with Johnson and hitting the shots that come to him. After fighting Jameer Nelson hard last night, there might not be much in the tank tonight, but they are off till Tuesday, so finding the second wind tonight will be crucial.
SG – DeRozan vs Wade
DeRozan was absolutely brilliant last night, taking it to Vince Carter every single minute of the game, running around, crashing the boards…basically contributing at a very high level. Wade is a much better defender than Carter, and he’s coming off a God awful performance against the Celtics, so we can expect a nasty chip on his shoulder. DeRozan owned the paint/elbow/top of the key last night, and attacking from there opens up the court for the rest of the team when the Miami defense collapses on him, much like what happened last night.
One of the best ways to play Wade is to make him play on both ends of the floor, forcing him to play tough and try to get him into foul trouble. Should be noted that DeRozan did play 40 minutes last night in a very hard fought/emotional game, so getting him off early to get the adrenaline pumping will be key. Asking him to win this match-up is not fair, but we can ask him to play as hard as possible and put Wade under pressure from the tip.
SF – Weems vs LeBron
After starting the season forcing the action, Weems has really fallen into his niche of letting the game come to him, attacking off the dribble and hitting his shots. I don’t like saying this, but the injury to Kleiza was a bit of a blessing in disguise in that Weems adds a level of athleticism that Linas just doesn’t have. It was a big cog in the Raptor run-and-gun machine last night, and will be a very important piece tonight against LeBron. That being said, there is nothing anything in the world can do to shut down LeBron since he contributes in every facet of the game. Much like the DeRozan/Wade match-up, Weems needs to make James play defense, and run him around. On offense, his jump shooting will keep LeBron far enough from the rim that his spectacular rebounding wont be as big a factor; he will still grab plenty boards, but it should give Reggie one less person to worry about on every board. I was never a fan of calling Weems ‘Money’, but after last night, the nickname sticks for me. Hitting a game winning shot from behind the arc finally earns him such a big nickname.
Should be mentioned that Julian Wright has played damn good at the small forward spot the last few games. I like his length and agility on LeBron (not that he will stop him, but he could slow the guy down). His contribution on defense will be paramount.
PF – Evans vs Bosh
Haters unite, tonights your chance to rip Bosh up in the comments, chat and twitter. The hate being spewed at Chris has been epic, and more so than what Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady ever got from us. It only goes to show how important, and how tied woven into the teams identity Bosh has become over the years. Evans played Howard perfectly last night. While Howard still had a monsterish night (25pts 8reb 5blk), most of his points came as the garbage variety where the Raptors had a hard time matching his sheer physical prowess. Bosh doesn’t have those gifts, and will be working outside-in as he does. I like Evans in that role since he can put pressure on Bosh outside the paint, then keep him on his back when the shot goes up (limiting his rebounding effectiveness). Unlike Howard though, Bosh wont be missing 10 free throws in a game, so putting him on the line, and tempting him to beat us from there will be a terrible strategy. Bosh is right around 15pts 6rebs a night, which was expected to a degree, except for the rebounding. He has trouble playing at the speed Wade and James operate, so if this becomes a run and gun game, his contribution will be minimized.
I do expect to see Bosh play Bargnani on defense quite a bit this game, with Joel Anthony checking Evans in the paint, and am really looking forward to see how this plays out. Bosh has the quickness to stay with Bargnani off the dribble, and should know enough not to go for his pump fakes at the arc.
Wifee is pissed at me since I broke plans to watch this game, this is how important playing Bosh is for me this season. Beating him to a pulp would be sweet for me, and if Evans plays him the way I think he will, the Republic will treat him to a steak at Jacob & Co.
Haslem will have a big say tonight, and can’t be overlooked because he does everything right on the floor, and can pull Evans out of paint with his mid-range and away from the glass.
Edge: Evans (yea, I said it)
C – Bargnani vs Anthony
A mistake the Raptors did last night was not forcing the ball to Bargnani a bit more in the 3rd quarter, to maintain that ridiculous zone he was in, in the first half (9-12 from the field for 21pts). A lot of that had to do with Orlando sending a double at Bargnani, but a lot had to do with the game-plan coming out of the half. Compared to the last week or so, Bargnani should own Anthony tonight. How he handles Bosh when they match-up will be the key tonight. I’m basically looking for a repeat from last night, anything less, and this bad boy can get ugly fast.
Keys to the Game
The Heat don’t have the same athletic front court the Raptors do. Between Evans, Johnson, Bargnani and Dorsey (to a smaller degree), the Raptors have the horses to really take it to a weakish front line that’s full of old men (Ilgauskas and Magloire). Haslem wont be breaking the game wide open, Anthony is only here because the Heat had no other choice which really leaves Bosh, who isn’t a big fan of the physical play, although he’s great at drawing contact and getting to the ine.
The injury situation has forced Triano’s hand into playing a tight rotation without the hockey substitutions, which we all know is how this game should be played. Making 4-5 guy chances disrupts the flow of the game for the Raptors, and has been a big piece of why they haven’t played well. The Heat have the luxury of fielding a team, where the best player in the world can play 5 positions. Triano (I’m just putting this out there) and Carlesimo’s ability to put out the best lineup will be crucial, especially considering that the Raptor starters played heavy minutes last night.
Sticking it to Bosh
This game needs to be more than just winning another game. Last night, the Raptors went into Orlando on a 6 game losing streak, and needing to stop the bleeding. They were able to dig deep and get a result that helped heal the team. Tonight, we play the guy who left us for greener pastures. I for one hold Bosh’s tenure in Toronto in high regard, and have nothing bad to say about him; but if we use his departure as motivation, it could serve as an ex-factor to fueling a win. Think about it, how sweet would it be to leave Florida beating 2 of the 3 elite teams in the East, where you’re ex-franchise player calls home?
The Heat are 15 point favourites with an over/under of 200.5.
How much the Raptors have left in the tank after an emotional game, and their ability to dig deep and summon the will to beat another elite team will determine this game. I will say this though, we will know very quickly how this game turns out. The 1st quarter will be telling.