miami

It was three years ago yesterday that the Miami Heat had their famous players only meeting, after starting the new Wade-LeBron-Bosh era off by going 9-8. 9-8 may sound good to Raptor fans, who haven’t see  a record like that since 2007, but to the team some predicted might break the ’96 Chicago Bulls record for 72 wins, it was not a promising start.

Raptor fans delighted in the start, and it wasn’t just schadenfreude upon seeing former Raptor, Chris Bosh, struggle with his new team. The Raptors owned the Heat’s first round pick the next June, and what was assumed to be a late first round pick started to look like it might be much more valuable.

Of course, after the meeting, the Heat ran off twelve straight wins, went 21-1, over the next 22 games, finished the season with 59 wins and made it to the Finals. They followed that up by winning back-to-back Championships.

Things obviously went a little differently for the Raptors, over that period. In their first 15 games in the post-Bosh era, the Raptors went 6-9, and finished the season 22-60.

If the Raptors lose tonight against the Heat, their record will be 6-9.

Over the next two seasons, we saw the Raptors attempt, and predictably fail, to turn Andrea Bargnani into Dirk Nowitzki. We saw Bryan Colangelo swing and miss (to varying degrees) on a number of deals, including trying and failing to sign Steve Nash, a move that would have been more disastrous if successful, and included overpaying Landry Fields in order to prevent the Knicks from signing Nash. As well as giving up a lottery pick for a mercurial Kyle Lowry, and the chance to draft Steven Adams, Kelly Olynyk or Giannis Antetokounmpo, all of whom have shown plenty of promise. And lastly, trading for the overrated and overpaid Rudy Gay, who Colangelo tried to sell as the franchise player the Raptors had been looking for.

Thankfully, the Colangelo era is over, but things don’t seem to have changed all that much.

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Raptor fans are still clamouring to trade an overpriced enigma, who has been built up by the franchise as something he is not, and who simply doesn’t play as well as he should. They’re still complaining that the young big man draft pick isn’t getting enough playing time to develop properly, that the coach makes poor in-game decisions and needs to be fired, and that the recent shooting guard draft pick is far too inconsistent.

The more things change in Raptorland, the more they remain the same.

So these two teams under very different circumstances meet tonight. The Heat are in second place in the East with a winning percentage that puts them on pace for a 65 win season. While it’s usually unlikely a team would be able to continue that type of success throughout the season, with so many poor teams in the East, it’s possible the Heat (and Pacers) could win in the mid-60s, this year.

The Raptors are currently a fourth seed in the East, but that’s only thanks to being on top of a historically awful Atlantic Division. There’s only a one game difference between the fourth seed and being a lottery team.  Yes, it’s early, but I am having trouble getting over just how bad the Eastern Conference is this season. The Raptor’s current winning percentage would give them 35 wins, over the course of the season, and that’s enough to be on top in the Atlantic, right now.

THREE BURNING QUESTIONS ABOUT TONIGHT’S GAME:

Will Dwane Casey play into the Heat’s hand and match them when they go small?  

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The teams that have had the most success against the Heat, the last few seasons, have been teams with big front lines that have forced Miami to try and go big, something they simply don’t have the personnel to do as well as teams like Indiana and San Antonio.

The Heat have the best small ball team in the NBA because they have a 6’9, 250 lbs small forward who most power forwards in the league can’t contain down low and is possibly the most impressive physical specimen the league has ever seen. Go small against them is asking for trouble.

The Raptors have a legit 7 foot center who is a threat in the post and good sized front line, but Casey has always been frustratingly quick to adjust to the other team’s lineup rather than make them adjust to his. And, not surprisingly, it’s usually gotten him into trouble. Yes, the Raptors have Rudy Gay, who is one of the few small forwards in the league big and athletic enough to matchup against LeBron, but the Heat have always had trouble defending the interior, and are currently last in the league in rebounding the ball, so keeping the Raptor’s best rebounders (Valanciunas, Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough) on the floor as much as possible will give the team the best chance to win.

In the game against the Heat last month, Casey had Gay playing a lot of power forward and the only big man to play more than 23 minutes was Valanciunas, who still just played 27 minutes.

Which Rudy Gay will show up tonight?

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When Gay is passing the ball and being aggressive, the Raptors tend to play well. When he has his blinders on, chucks up a lot of contested long twos and drives the ball into crowds of defenders who strip him of it, then the team struggles. Gay averages nearly two more assists per game in wins than he does in losses.

Gay has tended to play better against better competition and played well against the Heat, last season, but in his only game against the Heat this year, he shot poorly and turned the ball over a lot in a loss.

Will Chris Bosh get booed?

Of course he will. Raptor fans are a bitter, vindictive bunch who can’t let things go.

POSITION BREAKDOWN

The Heat have twice as many wins as the Raptors, and it’s not even December yet. They have three, possibly four Hall of Fame players and are currently on pace to win 30 more games than the Raptors. Do you really need a positional breakdown to tell you the Heat are a better team?

PREDICTION

The Heat have just three losses, so far and they were against Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Boston. What do those teams have in common besides they all suck, right now? I have no clue. They all have different strengths and weaknesses, and only the Nets are really a big team.

The one thing the Raptors have going for them is the Heat will often play down to their competition and allow their opponent more of a chance to stay with them than they should.

The Raptors definitely have a chance to win, but the Heat are playing better than they were when they lost their three games earlier in the season.

Score: Heat 103 – Raptors 92