We’re going to keep this very brief because I wrote the pregame and I’m on the bus on the way to my own game at 6:15. Nothing like getting an early run in before settling in for a night of watching ball. Anyway, the Toronto Raptors are visiting the Miami Heat again, looking to bounce back from a terrible outing the last time they were in South Beach. I’d say it can’t be worse, but down Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka and up against James Johnson, it’s not safe to say for sure.
The game tips off at 7:30 on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.
Serge Ibaka will miss Thursday’s game to serve the one-game suspension he received for his altercation with Robin Lopez on Tuesday. Ibaka has been perhaps Toronto’s second-best player since arriving, and Dwane Casey will have to go back to the uncomfortable options he had at the four before the trade deadline. People in the comments on the preview seemed pretty split on who should start, and Casey can go a couple of different ways: Maintain the second unit (Pascal Siakam, up from the D-League, starts); go big and maintain second unit (Lucas Nogueira starts); go big and try something weird (Jakob Poeltl starts); go against a bunch of really noisy small samples (Patrick Patterson starts); or start small (Norman Powell or P.J. Tucker start).
With the Heat starting small and stretchy themselves, I’d probably lean Tucker or Patterson, but for one game and with a quick hook, it’s probably not going to be a big deal either way. Check back for an update on the starters.
UPDATE: Tucker starts, per Tim Reynolds.
PG: Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Norman Powell
PF: P.J. Tucker, Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo
OUT: Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka
First, Hassan Whiteside said he intended to play Thursday. Then he said he has an open mind about it. Considering he just got 13 stitches on Tuesday, he’d be forgiven if he doesn’t want to expose them to a pounding, even through a sleeve. Whiteside is a game-time call and was officially listed as probable after going through shootaround (mostly left-handed, per the team), but with feel injuries like this, it really could go either way.
Willie Reed would likely start if Whiteside can’t go. (Personally, I think it would be fun if Erik Spoelstra unleashed James Johnson as his starting center, but decisions aren’t made based on fun alone at the NBA level.)
Wayne Ellington’s status was also up in the air following the birth of his child (congrats!), but he’ll play, per Barry Jackson.
Check back for an update on Whiteside.
UPSIDE: Whiteside will play.
PG: Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson
SG: Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington
SF: Rodney McGruder, James Johnson
PF: Luke Babbitt, Okaro White
C: Hassan Whiteside Willie Reed, Udonis Haslem
OUT: Justise Winslow, Josh McRoberts, Chris Bosh, Dion Waiters
- Bruno Caboclo remains on assignment with Raptors 905, who still have two games remaining on their road trip after winning on Wednesday. Caboclo sat with that lingering shoulder injury again, though, which is a little concerning given the in-and-out on the lineup card. Pascal Siakam was recalled Wednesday and pulled off the trip to serve as insurance in Serge Ibaka’s absence.
- The 905 can lock up the league’s best record and home court throughout the playoffs with a win on Friday. The weird quirk here, one players I’ve spoke to are split on, is that owning home court means playing Game 1 on the road before returning home for Games 2 and 3. Some players love the idea of having two chances to close out if you can steal one on the road, while others were shocked to learn you could be facing elimination in your first home game despite being the better team.
- For what it’s worth, I’d only expect Caboclo on assignment when the D-League postseason begins April 4. Plans can change, and the NBA club remains the priority, but I think the organization will want the 905ers to be able to close this thing out themselves. On top of that, the Raptors could be looking to trim workload here and there, and the extra depth would be handy (it doesn’t sound like they’ll be resting players, but extra practice bodies could be necessary if guys sit out off-day sessions).
- Over at Vice, I wrote about DeMar DeRozan turning in one of his best all-around games ever on Tuesday.
- Over at The Athletic, I wrote about Norman Powell re-focusing on being a defensive stopper and heeding P.J. Tucker’s example. It’s behind a paywall, but at least Raptors Republic readers can use this link for 20 percent off the subscription price.
The line has held at Heat -4.5, and as predicted in the preview, the over-under has fallen dramatically from 204 to 200.