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Pre-game news & notes: Anunoby plays, The Raptor plays in 1,000th home game

Anunoby has super-human healing powers.

The Toronto Raptors have once again won five games in a row. Now atop the Eastern Conference, there are a number of metrics that view the Raptors as one of the best teams in the NBA, a respect that has translated to intelligent writer opinion. There are caveats that require acknowledgement – namely the lack of late-game track record established while bludgeoning teams – but it’s impossible to spin the Raptors as anything but a very good team.

Still, if you go here for recommend sites to find the most up-to-date NBA betting lines, the Raptors are +2200 underdogs, significantly longer odds than the Boston Celtics or Cleveland Cavaliers. Maybe this is understandable through the lens of Toronto’s earlier playoff struggles; it is not through the lens of what those teams have accomplished so far this year. As the Raptors will tell you, though, they’ll be measured in April, May, and maybe June, not here in February.

“I’ll never get away from thinking about big picture, the last 27 or however many games we’ve got left,” Dwane Casey said Monday. “Everything we’re doing now is adding a few more set plays, more wrinkles in what we’re doing, thinking about the big picture at the end of the year. Because that’s what we’re going to be measured on. How we can continue to get better, keep things fresh, keep players fresh.”

The visiting Miami Heat present a nice challenge Tuesday, just a few weeks after they left town with a hard-fought one-point victory. The Heat have struggled offensively but just received reinforcements and have a top-10 defense, and they’re one of the league’s most disciplined teams when it comes to playing to their identity. There’s nothing easy with the Heat, and if the Raptors are taking their standing atop the East or the upcoming break as cause for an early breather, Miami is the type of opponent to punish that.

The game tips off at 7 on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
For the first time all season, it looked like the Raptors may be without rookie OG Anunoby. Anunoby suffered an ankle sprain in Sunday afternoon’s game and was still sore at practice Monday, leaving his status up in the air. Head coach Dwane Casey sounded pessimistic about his chances, which makes sense – Casey provided the “playoff game” qualifier, and Tuesday is not a playoff game. Anunoby, though, will play – Casey confirmed before the game that the rookie isn’t 100 percent but is okay enough to go, a comment I’m sure everyone will be reasonable about.

This could still open up minutes for Norman Powell, who is playing a little better when given the opportunity of late. With a pre-break back-to-back and Anunoby not at 100 percent, it’s possible Casey expands the rotation to 11 to trim his rookie’s minutes and keep Powell involved. Powell’s opportunities have still been fairly rare or short-lived, but it’s all Powell has to make an impression with right now, and he’s showing well on the defensive end in those opportunities. The starters with Powell were a plus-12 in the third quarter on Sunday, and that helped repair that fivesome’s net rating on the year to minus-6.2 in 158 minutes. That’s still not great, but it’s much better than where it was earlier in the year.

The five-man bench unit as currently constructed, by the way, has a gargantuan plus-32.8 net rating in 147 minutes together.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: None
TBD: None
905: Malcolm Miller, Lorenzo Brown, Alfonzo McKinnie, Malachi Richardson

Heat updates
The Miami Heat unexpectedly look like a fairly different team than the last time the two teams met. Dion Waiters remains on the sideline, and he’s now joined by Kelly Olynyk, who’s out until the All-Star break. The Heat are also out A.J. Hammons and Okaro White, though those aren’t big losses given the roles they were playing.

The changes come in the form of additions that are familiar to Heat fans. Dwyane Wade is back, freed from the mess in Cleveland in exchange for a pick that will never convey. Coming with him is Luke Babbitt, acquired for a song, giving Erik Spoelstra a nice infusion of offensive talent already familiar with the system. The Heat have also gotten Tyler Johnson and Justise Winslow back since the last meeting between the sides, and James Johnson doesn’t figure to get tossed again (I mean, maybe).

All told, the Heat are a pretty dangerous team, even with Goran Dragic’s status originally up in the air due to a hand injury suffered Friday. How it will all look on the court is a matter of speculation one game in. It appears, at least, that the Heat will bring Wade off the bench. How Babbitt factors in if he’s more than a back-end specialist is unclear, and if Dragic were to unexpectedly sit – he’s not listed on the injury report – Tyler Johnson would have to slide to the one and a bench player (probably James Johnson) would get the bump. Spoesltra has more toys now, he might just need a couple of games to figure out exactly how to use them all.

PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Tyler Johnson, Dwyane Wade
SF: Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington
PF: Justise Winslow, James Johnson, Luke Babbitt, Jordan Mickey
C: Hassan Whiteside, Bam Adebayo, Udonis Haslem
OUT: Kelly Olynyk, Dion Waiters, Rodney McGruder
TBD: None
Sioux Falls: Derrick Jones Jr., Derrick Walton Jr.


The line
The Raptors are 7.5-point favorites with a 206 over-under.