Gameday: Raptors @ Heat, Jan. 23

It might get ugly.

james raptors

7:30 p.m. TSN2. Raptors. Heat.

Slugfest would be the wrong word.

Slobberknocker, perhaps?

The Irresistible Force vs. The Immovable Object.

Okay, that’s probably enough. The 15-26 Raptors visit the 26-12 Miami Heat tonight, and by all accounts it should be a Heat blow-out victory at home. However, the Heat have lost to the Wizards, Pistons and Bucks, among other, better teams. And the Raptors have, of course, beaten the Pacers and Rockets and…that’s it for above-.500 teams, I think.

But there’s always a chance, so let’s break it down.

Tale of the Tape
O-Rating: Miami 110.7 (3rd), Toronto 106.1 (12th)
D-Rating: Miami 104.8 (12th), Toronto 108.2 (26th)
Pace: Miami 91.4 (18th), Toronto 90.0 (25th)
Strength: Miami – Having LeBron James (1st), Toronto – Ball Control (2nd)
Weakness: Toronto – Not Having LeBron James (T-30th), Miami – Rebounding (24th Def, 30th Off)

Synergy Says
Heat: The top team in isolation, with cutters, and with dive-men is also the top team overall in terms of points per possession. They’re also top-10 in every category except for scoring from offensive rebounds, where they’re 14th. If that isn’t enough, they’re also one of the most balanced offenses in the league, with transition buckets being their largest share at just 13.5%. Defensively, don’t even try handing the ball off, hitting a cutter or scoring in transition. Those are non-starters. They’re not great defending on isolation plays and defending spot-up shooters, the latter of which is not exactly where the Raptors excel.

Raptors: The Raptors are the top team in the league at scoring on offensive rebounds, which isn’t a huge surprise. Nor is the team ranking top-10 with dive men, since Davis and Johnson have been strong in that area. What is surprising, though, is the team ranking third in isolation offense – on paper this makes them a good match-up in Synergy terms against the Heat. Defensively, the Raptors are great guarding screens and pick-and-roll ball handlers, and also don’t allow a lot of scoring off offensive rebounds. They do, however, allow a lot of scoring from every other situation. And the Heat have LeBron James, who averages 28-7-7 against the Raptors for his career, right in line with his career numbers.

Positional Breakdown
Point Guard – Jose Calderon and Kyle Lowry v. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole
Didn’t expect them to have an advantage, eh? Well, if there is one to be leveraged, here it is. Chalmers dials up threes and is actually a tough guard when he gets going, so it’s certainly not a night off for the Raptor guards. Still, they are option number four or five at almost all times, so they’re the least of coach Casey’s concerns. Lowry can’t afford to gamble defensively in help on the tough wings and leave Chalmers open. On defense, Chalmers is a big net positive, but most of his minutes are with the Big Three, so it’s tough to gauge him. He’s certainly active, but per Synergy he’s very exploitable in isolation.

Wings – DeMar DeRozan, Landry Fields, Terrence Ross and Alan Anderson v. Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Ray Allen and Mike Miller
Do I need to break this down? James is the best player in the NBA, perhaps on both ends of the floor when fully engaged, and he’s flanked by an All Star in Wade and highly capable shooters off the bench. It’s basically a pick your poison situation against this team – double on James and Wade driving and try to recover on the shooters, or try to guard these guys one-on-one with your subpar wing defenders. This could get ugly.

Bigs – Ed Davis, Amir Johnson, Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray v. Udonis Haslem, Chris Bosh, Shane Battier, Joel Anthony and THE BIRDMAN BRRRRRRR
So, maybe you were thinking the Raptors could go a bit small since the Heat are small and the Raptors are thin in the paint right now? Hey, if you want to invite James to play the four and get more floor time for Allen/Miller/Battier, go for it. I’ll take my chances with Ed and Amir trying to exploit Haslem and Anthony where possible. And sure, Bosh gets hated on, but he’s shooting 54.5% from the floor and averaging 17-and-7, so he’s not exactly a slouch. If the Raptors can hammer the Heat on the boards, they have a puncher’s chance by way of having more possessions, but it’s still not a good chance.

The Picks
Vegas: Heat -10.5
Hollinger: Heat -10.5
Blake: Heat by 8

I’ll take the Raptors with the points, but I’d put the chances of them sneaking out with a win somewhere in the five percent range. It’s just too heavy a mismatch to realistically hope for a win, and the Heat are exceptionally well rested after five days off.

UPDATE: Came across this from HoopChalk which outlines how Chicago tried to take advantage of Miami’s pick-and-roll defense. It didn’t work out terribly well for them, but they created good looks in the examples given.

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