Finally, a meaningful-meaningless game.
Nothing is more important to the Toronto Raptors at this stage of the season than health, but having spread some rest across the two games against the Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons, expect the Raptors to use this last regular season game as a final tune-up before the playoffs.
They’re one win away from the prestigious 60-mark, and if that weren’t motivation enough, defeating the Heat would keep alive the hope of avoiding a potentially trickier series against the Washington Wizards or Milwaukee Bucks. The Wizards, as we have learned over the past few years, have a habit of rising to the occasion in the postseason, while Milwaukee could find some life in the playoffs with Giannis Antetokounmpo likely playing 40-plus minutes per game, Jabari Parker finding more of a rhythm of late (Last five games: 18.4 points, 8.8 rebounds, 45.5 percent from three), and Malcolm Brogdon returning to the court on April 9.
The Miami Heat certainly present obstacles of their own, but the lack of a true star and general offensive firepower makes it hard to envision a Raptors team that performs up to par having difficulty disposing of them. Their most recent opponents, the Oklahoma City Thunder, tested this theory and came away with a convincing 115-93 victory. Goran Dragic struggled in his matchup with current MVP Russell Westbrook, shooting 2-for-10 from the field for his four points in 30 minutes of action while Dwyane Wade was an unfathomable minus-31 in his 24 minutes.
Dragic and Wade have both historically fared much better when standing opposite uniforms with Raptors across the chest, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see those two put in much better performances in this one. The Slovenian, in particular, is averaging 26 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three infuriating elbows over his two outings against Toronto.
The game tips off at 7:00 p.m. ET on TSN and you can listen in at TSN 1050.
Nekias Duncan, contributor to BBallBreakdown and podcaster for Miami Heat Beat was kind enough to help set the stage for this one. You can follow him on Twitter @NekiasNBA.
Vivek Jacob: Raptors fans who stanned for James Johnson felt vindicated by his 2016-17 season. He did a bit of everything on both ends, lost weight, and shot respectably enough from three. How would you assess his follow-up year?
Nekias Duncan: It has been … a bit uneven.
James Johnson struggled to find a rhythm to begin the year. Injuries found him in and out of the starting lineup. His usual diet of pick-and-rolls shifted to more dribble-handoffs, which was an adjustment he had to get used to. Adding guys to the mix like Kelly Olynyk and a healthy Justise Winslow meant picking his spots more instead of getting downhill whenever he wanted. On top of that, his three-point shooting regressed like most expected it to, making it harder for him to find creases in the defense to attack.
He’s looked more comfortable since the All-Star break. He’s back to punishing defenses whenever Miami goes to their inverted pick-and-rolls. Switching a small on Johnson has pretty much spelled death. His defensive effort has improved, with standout performances against LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo over the last couple of months. This version of Johnson is worth the contract he signed over the summer. For Miami’s sake, hopefully he keeps it up in the postseason.
Vivek Jacob: Hassan Whiteside did what Hassan Whiteside does with his comments about not closing games a week ago. Is there a future for him in a Heat uniform? Have his days been numbered ever since the Heat signed Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo?
Nekias Duncan: His days are absolutely numbered. He’s been a talented enigma since Miami discovered him in 2015. He has the size and skill to be one of the most impactful bigs in the league, but whether it’s questionable shot selection, an unwillingness to pass, shoddy screen-setting, or inconsistent effort defensively, he’s just never put it together.
Kelly Olynyk has been Miami’s most impactful center this season. Bam Adebayo is raw, but he does all of the little things that head coach Erik Spoelstra has been prodding Whiteside to do since he’s gotten here. If Miami hopes to be a player in the free agent or trade market, moving Whiteside’s deal is a virtual inevitability.
Vivek Jacob: Dwyane Wade’s reunion with the Heat is a feel-good story, but is he hurting the team more than he’s helping? He’s shooting a career-low 41.8 percent from the field and 23.7 percent on two attempts per from deep. Is the clutch gene reputation playing too much of an emotional factor in Spoelstra’s late-game tactics?
Nekias Duncan: A few Wade-Heat numbers, if I may:
Dwayne Wade ranks in the 29th percentile on spot-up attempts, 15th percentie on isolation attempts, 14th percentile on post-up attempts, and The Heat are 11 points per 100 possessions better with Wade off the floor.
Wade has been a legitimately good passer, particularly in pick-and-roll (76th percentile) since he’s returned. He’s converted nearly 67 percent of his shots in transition. He’s been a (more) trustworthy shot creator, for himself or others, during clutch time. But those flashes have not been enough to shift the bigger picture: he’s pretty easily a net negative at this stage of his career.
Erik Spoelstra loves and trusts Wade. I do not expect his role to be diminished in the postseason. If he continues to trend the way he has, he probably shouldn’t see the floor, much less decide games like he has throughout his storied career.
Vivek Jacob: Norman Powell and Josh Richardson received similar extensions prior to this season. While Richardson has been a key performer for the Heat, Powell has completely fallen off the Raptors rotation map. Has any aspect of Richardson’s development surprised you this season? What’s his ceiling? All-star?
Nekias Duncan: Richardson has improved in virtually every area offensively. The biggest surprise to me has been his comfort in pick-and-roll. He bobs and weaves his way into elbow jumpers. If he turns the corner, he’s shown an ability to finish with a lefty scoop that has become a favorite for him. Since the All-Star break, he’s been slipping in on-target pocket passes to rolling bigs. I’d say “fringe All-Star” is a fair ceiling for him, though it’s probably not smart to bet against his work ethic at this point.
Vivek Jacob: Which team is the Heat’s optimal playoff opponent? What are your thoughts on a potential Heat-Raptors playoff matchup?
Nekias Duncan: Miami should be hoping they can get the Celtics in a 2-7 matchup. The loss of Kyrie Irving significantly lowers the offensive ceiling of Boston. Miami is the healthier group and more seasoned. As long as Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, and James Johnson show up, Miami should have enough to pull off the upset.
A matchup with the Raptors could become worrisome. Toronto has more star power. They’re deeper, though the bench has struggled a bit as of late. Still, homecourt plus two dynamic guards that can get wherever they want is just something Miami isn’t equipped to deal with. They can muck up games, but ultimately, Toronto is more talented.
The most significant update on the Raptors’ front is that Lorenzo Brown is now a full member of the roster. Our own superstar Blake Murphy broke the news (a full 15 minutes before Shams Charania) that the 2017-18 G League MVP would have his two-way contract converted to a standard NBA deal before the playoffs.
Fred VanVleet left the game against the Magic with a tight lower back and did not participate against the Pistons, so his status along with Lucas Nogueira’s (hamstring) is questionable.
Malcolm Miller will still be eligible to travel and practice with the team, but his continued two-way status implies he will be ineligible for the playoffs.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Malachi Richardson
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles, Malcolm Miller
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl
TBD: Fred VanVleet, Lucas Nogueira
Tyler Johnson was dealing with a sprained right ankle a week ago and that is as close as any recent contributors in a
Vice Heat uniform comes to the injury report. Dion Waiters was ruled out for the remainder of the season on Jan. 23 after undergoing surgery to repair instability in his left ankle.
Kelly Olynyk was unavailable due to injury the last time these two teams met on Feb. 13 and will pose a healthy challenge to the Raptors bigs who will have to contend with both his size and feathery shooting stroke.
PG: Goran Dragic, Derrick Walton Jr.
SG: Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Rodney McGruder
SF: Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Derrick Jones Jr., Luke Babbitt
PF: James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Udonis Haslem
C: Hassan Whiteside, Bam Adebayo, Jordan Mickey
OUT: Dion Waiters
The Raptors are interestingly six-point underdogs against the Heat in this one, possibly owing to the assumption that Miami has more at stake than Toronto. The over/under is set at 200.5.