Well, this is going to be a test, to say the least.

On Tuesday, the Toronto Raptors welcome the two-time defending NBA Champion Miami Heat to the Air Canada Centre, and while the champs may be just 2-2, they’re the champions ‘till they ain’t the champions no more.

Yes, Miami struggled with an uncharacteristic pair of losses last week, including a loss of the NBA Championship Belt to the Philadelphia 76ers. They’ve been dealing with alleged chemistry issues (described by the players as basically a failure to do the little things), but 32 assists on 37 field goals Sunday puts some of that talk to rest, I’m sure.

Unfortunately, there’s not a formula for beating the Heat, as much as we might like to think there’s a David strategy out there for toppling LeBron James and company.

Kill them on the glass? Sure, you can do that. The Raptors are the top rebounding team in the league so far (and almost certainly an above-average outfit when the stats normalize) and the Heat were below-average at rebounding on both ends of the floor last year. Those are extra possessions and certainly don’t hurt, but the Heat did just fine with a rebounding deficit last year.

Pick up the pace? Slow things down? There’s no good choice here. The Heat have played at a below-average pace in the Big Three era, but they also have the horses (namely, LeBron and deadly shooters to trail in transition) to get out and run. The Raptors want to speed things up offensively, but whether or not that strategy is efficacious against Miami is unclear, at best.

Make it rain threes? This is generally a good strategy when facing a significantly more talented team – threes are volatile, so a hot shooting night can keep things closer than they should be. The Heat have conceded threes the past two years (seventh most in 2012-13, fourth most in 2011-12), and while they held opponents to a below-average percentage last year, the opposite was true the year before. Of course, Toronto is shooting 30.2 percent and might only be a 34-35 percent true-talent team.

As you can see, there are tactical points you can try and keep in mind and gameplan for, but the Heat have won two straight titles and, including playoffs, gone 218-83. Even a perfect strategy is only going to give you a puncher’s chance.

Alas, we break it down anyway.

Position Breakdown
Point Guards: Kyle Lowry and D.J. Augustin vs. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole
Edge: Wash
Mario Chalmers has turned into quite a player over his years in Miami, providing a long-range threat while being a disruptive presence on defense. Kyle Lowry’s a better player overall and would give the Raptors the nod, but Augustin is so bad that the Heat could play Greg Oden as the backup point guard and make up the gap.

Wings: Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan, Landry Fields and Terrence Ross vs. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Rashard Lewis
Edge: Heat
Rashard Lewis looks like an NBA player once again, Ray Allen is the greatest shooter of all time (keeping the seat warm for Steph Curry, but still) and Shane Battier can’t stay this cold for too long. And then, of course, there’s Wade, who has worked to reinvent himself as an off-ball machine, and James, the best player in the NBA.

Gay and DeRozan could have shot charts that’d see “us nerds” make our spreadsheets sticky, and this would still be a major disadvantage. Can DeRozan keep the defensive focus up enough to chase Wade down? Can he handle Wade’s post game? Can a stronger Gay deal with James if he heads to the block?

Last year, in 105 minutes against each other, Gay actually shot 46 percent with James on the floor and managed almost a point per possession (not great, but considering the difficulty, not awful). James, meanwhile, shot 52 percent (below his 56.5 mark for the season) but had a steady stream of trips to the free throw line to make up for it.

It’s not a one-on-one or even two-on-two match-up; keeping James in check, chasing his shooters off the 3-point line and keeping tabs on Wade off the ball are all team efforts. I’m not sure it’s one this Raptors team is ready for based on the season’s early returns.

Bigs: Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas and Tyler Hansbrough vs. Chris Bosh, Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem
Edge: Wash
Yes, Bosh is the best big in the game, but the advantage swings to Toronto beyond him. The real question is whether the Heat even bother with a center except for when Valanciunas is on the floor – the Heat play a lot of small-ish ball with James or Battier at the four, and that’s actually a look the Raptors are probably okay with for stretches.

Should Casey match up that way? It’s rarely an obvious choice (some hate the idea of matching to your opponent rather than making them adjust to you), but yes, in this case he probably should. Johnson is the team’s best defender, and having him on James, while exhausting and a likely plea for foul trouble, would be fine. That would also remove him as a rim protector, though, and would then require Valanciunas to cover Bosh. It seems pretty likely that Casey will go wing-heavy rather than activate a fifth (or even fourth, perhaps) big.

10 a.m. update: Chris Bosh had a baby last night (congratulations, since I’m sure you’re reading this) and is status is “undetermined” for tonight’s game. Seems likely he sits out, as he didn’t travel with the team.

Wrap Up
Overall Advantage: Heat
Hopefully no need to spell this out any further.

Bookmakers Say: Somehow the Heat are only 5.5-point favorites. Think that sounds wrong? So do 76 percent of people right now, with heavy action on Miami (though the spread opened at six and has come down). Even with home court, keeping this a two-possession game seems like a tall task.

I’ll take the Heat and the under at 196.

You can catch the game at 7 p.m. on TSN2 and join us here for the usual live chat proceedings.

  • ckh26

    LeBron is going to get his. Of that we can be sure. Indiana made life miserable for the Heat by exploiting their advantage on the offensive glass and taking it inside at every chance with Roy Hibbert. Its exam time for JV as the best chance to win is to take it inside where we have an advantage (JV/Amir/TH). Have to play to your strength advantage to beat this crew. It will have to be unrelenting pressure on the boards and even then its going to be tough. If Dwane tries to match Miami with small ball then we just don’t have the horses on the wings to compete over the full course of the game.

    • Tanks-a-lot

      Casey will be a stupid party RINO Republican and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

    • One relaxed fella

      I don’t think JV will play a lot tonight. Miami plays small ball a lot and Casey always does what opponents do, he doesn’t try to thrust to opponents his own rules. In that case, JV is not his choice to go small, it will be Amir at 5 and Rudy at 4. Still, Raptors are doing pretty good job on rebounding overall and on offensive glass so far this season, so this might help Raps.

    • robertparrish00

      Dwayne is a small ball addict. I wouldn’t be surpised if Fields/Rudy play the 5 tonight. Oden with the double double.

    • Duke

      Couldn’t agree more. Everyone knows Miami’s weakness is their frontcourt and you beat them in the paint. Unfortunately, I think Casey will go small. Just once, I’d like to see him exploit the other team’s weakness instead of letting them dictate the game.

  • DanH

    I think Bosh is out for tonight – didn’t make the trip due to the birth of his daughter. So the bigs certainly swing TO’s way. It will be interesting to see what Miami does up front.

    • BlakeMurphy

      Thanks. Still “undetermined status” but I’ll add that note in.

    • 2damkule

      ha, we’ll see. bosh being out means heavy minutes for anderson at the 5, with lebron likely to play a lot of 4, or more minutes for lewis at the 4 (dragging amir out of paint) which casey will obvious cede to, rather than try to go big & utilize pretty much the only advantage the raps have. no no no, we don’t do that here, we wait to see what the opponent does, and then try to match-up, even if it means going away from our strength and putting guys in positions they aren’t accustomed to.

      IMO, you go big, and force miami to adjust, because what’s the worst that could happen? lose to the heat?

      • Duke

        Yes! Sick of seeing Casey let the opposing team dictate the game. You’re right about going big against Miami, unfortunately we support the Raptors who never seem to know or exploit the other team’s weakness.

  • Louvens Remy

    I have a feeling Rudy will be up for this one. He seems to play down or up to his competition a lot. Hopefully he continues his solid play on the boards. He needs to show more leadership out there and be more vocal and take reign of the team.

  • Nilanka15

    Not sure if Augustin deserves the criticism. I thought he’s played well in the limited minutes we’ve seen him in 3 games so far.

    • DanH

      .250 FG%. 0-7 from 3. 1.75:1 AST:TO. -0.08 WS/48. Woo!

      • Nilanka15

        He’s found seems in the defense, and created open looks for teammates. Whether his teammates make those looks is a different story, but for a backup PG playing 15 mpg, I’d say he’s doing his job.

    • Louvens Remy

      He needs to play off the ball as much as possible. I’m still huge on playing him with Ross in the backcourt and have Terrence handle the rock as a Point/Wing.

      • Nilanka15

        Replace Ross with Fields and it could work.

        Ross’s ball-handling skills are pretty weak. He can’t maintain his dribble with a defender near him.

        • Louvens Remy

          Ya that is a problem but Ross needs to be involved a little more and letting him handle the rock in spurts should do good for his confidence and present some matchup problems in my opinion. Not saying he’s as good as Paul George at all but something along the lines of handling the rock a little bit should help his vision, confidence and shooting. It would be nice if he made cuts to the baskets too. He should call up Matt Barnes or maybe ask Landry Fields for some pointers.

  • OldSkoolCool

    Rudy’s game plan should be to hoist at least 30 shots this game and grab the tank by the wheel and drive it to Kansas!

  • SHAQ

    Erik knows Casey always adjust I would not be surprised if he plays Bron at 5

  • Raptorsss

    I predict a raptors win, they stay undefeated at home and Miami stays winless on the road. My fearless prediction is that Fields either starts in place of Jonas, or comes in at the 10 minute mark of the 1st and plays 35+minutes.

    • Nilanka15

      Bold!

  • Bendit

    Congratulations Chris…hope the baby takes after the mother.

  • ppellico

    holy shit.is gray still on the team> he is nver evenmentioned as a big?
    this is stupid…again

    • BlakeMurphy

      Duuuuude what is your deal with Gray? He’s played 6min this year. I don’t list EVERY player, I list the ones I feel are likely to get enough run to warrant ‘breaking down.’ Holy hell.

      • Nilanka15

        I wonder if Rick Brunson has as loyal a following…..

      • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

        Did you know that Gray currently has a 44.2 PER, and, per 36 minutes, is averaging 24 ppg, 12 rpg and 6 asp? The guy is a MONSTER!

      • youngjames

        Love it – now this is a conversation. Better then the same old answers and the same old question, though!

    • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

      The only reason I can see Gray getting ANY burn tonight is if Greg Oden plays, and I don’t see that happening. The only time Casey plays Gray is when he needs him to match up a big, strong center. And that’s not something we’ll see from Miami.

    • dc

      Are you Gray’s father?

  • jjdynomite

    Can one of you awesome dudes post the direct link to view the game online later on this evening, for those of us (like Zarar and myself) that don’t receive the excellent channel known as TSN28790123780723432 … ? Thanks in advance!

  • Exo

    First off: Congratulations Bosh on the girl!
    Now, I think the raptors have the edge (I decided this hours ago) as all of our losses followed a similar pattern; a strong start, but a weak finish due to a resulting cocky attitude. However, it seems that the roster has all learned their lesson (if this applied to them), and it will be decided whether or not they take it to heart.

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