Gameday: Heat @ Raptors, Feb. 3

A big test early in the "New Era."

It’s game two in the Rudy Gay Era in Toronto, and if the Clippers weren’t enough of a trial-by-fire situation, it’s now LeBron James and his Miami Heat in town.

While the focus might be on the Super Bowl, including LeBron’s, considering he complained about the team flying during the game without satellite TV, all eyes at the Republic will be fixated on this 2 p.m. tip-off (on TSN).

The Miami Heat are, of course, a very good basketball team. Probably the best in the NBA, depending on your feelings about some Western Conference contenders. And as I outlined in this pre-game from the Jan. 23 contest, they’re a tough match-up for the Raptors, especially on the wings.

Enter Rudy Gay, who immediately steps in as the team’s best wing defender. I have more on this aspect of his game coming in an article this week, but Gay has an unfair reputation as a poor defender from early in his career. With Memphis, he was the “stay at home” type defender, guarding the best wing player and allowing Tony Allen to freelance as more of an off-ball defender, since there’s nobody better at that. Gay is not all-world, but he’s not a sieve. This is just one game, but watching Gay try his hand at James will be interesting.

Last time out, the Raptors hung tough with the Heat, forcing overtime and eventually running out of gas to lose 123-116. The Raptors had seven players hit double figures in that game but somehow got pounded on the glass, getting doubled up by the rebounding-inept Heat. Dwyane Wade also had 35 points with seven dimes, while the King had a triple double with 31-10-11. So, yeah, even with Gay it’s tough sledding on the wings.

For a bit more detail, let’s head to the…

Tale of the Tape
O-Rating: Miami 111.1 (2nd), Toronto 106.5 (11th)
D-Rating: Miami 105.0 (11th), Toronto 108.1 (26th)
Pace: Miami 90.9 (22nd), Toronto 90.1 (25th)
Strength: Miami Scoring (1st in eFG%), Toronto Ball Control (2nd – will this change without Calderon?)
Weakness: Miami O-Reg (28th), Toronto Fouling (30th)

Now, we could break down the positions, but we just did that a week and a half ago. Instead, let’s discuss a few potential key points to the game.

Will Andrea Bargnani Suit Up?
He practiced on Saturday and there’s “a chance” he plays on Sunday. If he plays, the goal is clear: get his trade value up. This is no longer a matter of opinion or RR hating on Bargnani or whatever else you want to conjure up. Colangelo has said, flat out, he’s looking to deal Bargnani, and anything productive on the court helps that goal. There will be some who suggest he stay in the fold if he starts playing well, but the team’s salary structure is such that keeping Bargnani is not only a bad idea in basketball terms but also in financial terms. Regardless, Bargs isn’t confirmed and if he does play, it would likely be in a somewhat limited role, hopefully off the bench. In the long-term, it’s about improving the trade value but in the short-term, the team could actually use the front-court addition.

What Will Jonas Valanciunas Provide?
Jonas looked bad in his return on Friday, but that’s to be expected. If he plays as poorly today, he’s unlikely to see big minutes because of the next point below. If he plays well, he’s a tough check for the Heat bigs given his motor and ability to roll with his hands up every single time. There’s no rush for The Lethaluanian to get back to looking like a stud, but his playing well would be nice to help evaluate the “new core.”

Will the Teams Match Small?
Because of their size and talent at the wing, the Heat tend to go “small” a lot with Shane Battier or James playing the four. The Raptors are even better equipped to match this now with Gay in the fold, who can bump to the power forward spot and stay with James when Amir Johnson is off the floor. The Raptors’ strength is now their speed and athleticism on the wings, and while the Heat are talented in those positions, they’re not exactly young and agile. It’s likely the Raptors wait for the Heat to go small and then match, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Dwane Casey try to dictate the match-ups right out of the gate.

White Vegas
LeBron took in the Leafs game last night, and Sunday morning games in Toronto have been known to cause a “White Vegas” effect on the opposing teams. However, there have been prior instances where I’ve been tipped off to opposing players at certain establishments on Saturday only for it to show no manifestation on Sunday. But James has admitted his mind is on the Super Bowl, so maybe the Raptors can catch him looking too far ahead.

The Picks
Vegas: Heat -4.5
Hollinger: Heat -4.5
Blake: Heat -6

What would a welcome to Toronto be without Gay experiencing a heart-breaking loss? I expect the team to come out and play well but ultimately fall short based on the talent gap. Friday was great, but this IS the Miami Heat, after all.

Enjoy the game and enjoy the Super Bowl.

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