Pre-game news & notes: Raptors won’t repeat 2015’s seed-seeking

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Kyle Lowry has a reminder for everyone. No, not that he’s back, although that was a fun one Wednesday. That two years ago, the Toronto Raptors wanted the Washington Wizards in the seeding shakeout, and that the Wizards summarily swept the Raptors off the floor. (By my memory – and I was not around the team regularly at that point in time – a few Raptors quietly admitted that Washington was the hope. In their defense, the Wizards did look like a decent matchup on paper. The Raptors were just very, very bad.)

Let that be a reminder as you look at the standings each morning. It’s fine to have preferences, but it’s far more important that the Raptors enter the postseason in a nice groove, feeling and playing well. Milwaukee or Atlanta or Indiana might be what looks best, but the Raptors are going to struggle against any opponent if they’re playing as poorly as they were in 2014-15.

Luckily, they are not, and there are three games to iron out any issues that presently exist. The Miami Heat represent a nice test on all fronts, because the Heat should come in desperate, and the two teams have grown familiar with several meetings in the last couple of weeks. For the Heat, this game means control of their fate over the final three games or needing help. For the Raptors

That leads us into our now-nightly look around the league. We’re going to make this round-up a regular pre-game news & note feature the rest of the way, and maybe even introduce it on non-game days:

  • 1-2 seed: Cleveland hosts Atlanta, Boston is off. The Cavs beating Boston on Wednesday was huge, and the Celtics chasing it with a loss to Atlanta is even bigger. The Cavs now have a 1.5-game lead and the tiebreaker, giving them firm control of the top seed and clearing up that yes, the Raptors probably would like to finish third. The Raptors finishing second is still quite a longshot. (Cleveland has an 87-percent chance at the one seed,per Inpredictable’s model.)
  • 3-4 seed: Toronto hosts Miami, Washington is off. The Raptors control their destiny here as far as the three-seed goes, with the two teams tied and Toronto owning the tiebreaker. The Raptors finish with Miami, at New York, and at Cleveland while Washington hosts Miami, then visits Detroit and Miami. Considering the Heat are fighting for their lives and the Cavs could be resting on Wednesday, Toronto has an easier schedule here. (Toronto has a 71-percent chance of finishing third, per Inpredictable.)
  • 5-6 seed:  Atlanta visits Cleveland, Milwaukee is off. The Hawks own a half-game lead here and have a 1.5-game edge on the teams fighting for the last two playoff spots, so it’s beginning to look like they’ve stabilized enough to finish fifth or sixth. The Bucks, meanwhile, have dropped three in a row and are at risk of sliding into Cleveland’s range, which is something they’d obviously like to avoid. Mathematically, it’s most likely Toronto draws one of these two opponents. (Milwaukee has a 53-percent chance at the five-seed, per Inpredictable. Atlanta finishes in each spot from fifth to ninth in at least 15 percent of scenarios.)
  • 7-9 seeds: Chicago is off, Indiana is off, and Miami visits Toronto. This is a big one for the Heat, who trail the other two by half a game. In a three-team tiebreaker scenario, Indiana falls out of the playoffs, so they’ll need some luck and to take care of their own business. The Bulls have Brooklyn twice and the Magic once, so if they don’t end up in the playoffs, they’ve done it to themselves. (Miami has a 53-percent chance of making the playoffs. Indiana has a 76-percent chance of getting in. Chicago has a 90-percent chance. These odds will swing wildly with a Miami win tonight.)
  • 10-11 seeds: Charlotte and Detroit are all but mathematically eliminated.
  • Other relevant games: The Raptors have ad raft pick to watch out for, too, and it will almost certainly fall in the 22-24 range. The Raptors get the more favorable of their pick and the Clippers’, and both teams are likely to finish in the 22-25 range. Keep an eye on Toronto (vs. Miami), L.A. Clippers (off), Washington (off), and Utah (vs. Minnesota) over the last few days of the season. Really, just root for the Clippers to do the worst of that group and Toronto will pick 22nd.

The game tips off at 7:30 on TSN2 and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
Kyle Lowry told reporters at shootaround that he’s a little sore today, but that he’s “good enough to play.” Some soreness is expected, of course, and the message from everyone out of shootaround seemed more cheerful than worried. That Lowry returned and did so by playing as well as he did was encouraging, and even Lowry seemed, from the video, to be in a better mood than usual. (“I didn’t think I would play that well,” he joked.)

It seems unlikely the Raptors will rest anyone here, with no back-to-backs left and just one game over a five-day stretch next week leading into the playoffs. They want to enter in gear, and Lowry and Casey both talked about the opportunity to treat these final games like real games so they hit the postseason in their best form.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, P.J. Tucker, Bruno Caboclo
PF: Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
TBD: None
OUT: None

Heat updates
Dion Waiters (ankle) still isn’t ready to return and Luke Babbitt (hip) was downgraded from questionable to doubtful, leaving a starting spot and a boatload of offensive touches for James Johnson. Josh McRoberts could be on his way back soon, too, but isn’t with the team on the road trip. That leaves likely Coach of the Year Erik Spoelstra’s options a little tight with 11 or 12 bodies, but the Heat have gotten by with far fewer at times this year, and this rotation has mostly been working, though they have dropped four of seven.

UPDATE: Babbitt is out.

PG: Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson
SG: Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington
SF: Rodney McGruder
PF: James Johnson, Okaro White
C: Hassan Whiteside Willie Reed, Udonis Haslem
TBD: None
OUT: Justise Winslow, Josh McRoberts, Chris Bosh, Dion Waiters, Luke Babbitt


The line
The Raptors are 4.5-point favorites with a 207.5 over-under. The total being so high is a little surprising, but hey, let’s ball. The line has come down a bit from Raptors -5, and even -5.5 some places, at open. That’s not a significant shift but does suggest there’s remaining optimism Miami can pull off the minor upset and get back into playoff position.

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