Miami Heat vs. Toronto Raptors: Preview, Analysis and Predictions

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Miami Heat vs. Toronto Raptors: Preview, Analysis and Predictions
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

In a battle of Eastern Conference foes, the 29-14 Miami Heat will travel to play the 17-30 Toronto Raptors. The first time these two teams met, Miami won an overtime thriller by a score of 123-116.

This time around, however, the Toronto Raptors will be led by Rudy Gay.

In what is certain to be a star-studded affair, Chris Bosh will return to Toronto for the first time in 2012-13. Bosh will look to put an end to the Heat's current streak of two losses in three games.

Gay, meanwhile, will be looking to send a message as he continues to turn Toronto's season around.

Entering this affair, Miami is 11-11 on the road. The Raptors, meanwhile, are 12-11 in Toronto and coming off of a home win against the 34-14 Los Angeles Clippers.

So how is the Heat-Raptors battle going to go down?

 

Time: Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. ET

TV: Sun Sports and TSN

Records: Miami Heat (29-14, 11-11 Away) at Toronto Raptors (17-30, 12-11 Home)

Betting Line: Miami Heat (-4.5) at Toronto Raptors (+5), via Odds Shark

Injuries: Andrea Bargnani, Questionable (Elbow); Linas Kleiza, Out (Knee); Mickael Pietrus, Out (Knee)

 

Key Storyline: Chris Bosh Meets His Replacement

Any time the Miami Heat travel to play one of their player's former teams, there is going to be a great deal of tension. For Chris Bosh and the Toronto Raptors, there are no exceptions to be made.

For the first time since his departure, however, the Raptors have themselves a franchise player: Rudy Gay.

The Raptors acquired Gay via the Memphis Grizzlies in a three-team deal on January 30 (via Yahoo! Sports). In his first game with the team, Gay scored 20 points and led the Raptors to a 98-73 win over the 34-14 Los Angeles Clippers.

The next test is about more than just how far Gay can carry them. It's about proving Toronto is no longer in Bosh's shadow.

A victory would be a great way to prove such a thing.

With that being said, don't think for a second that Miami is going to back down without a fight. They Heat have lost two of their past three games and are desperate to close out their four-game road trip with a win.

A loss would drop Miami to second in the Eastern Conference, as it's currently tied for first with the New York Knicks.

The pressure is on both sides to secure a victory. The question is, who will face adversity with success?

Let's find out.

 

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Key Matchup: LeBron James vs. Rudy Gay

What else did you expect?

When the Toronto Raptors host the Miami Heat, it will be a battle of two of the league's star small forwards. The difference in their position amongst the elite, however, couldn't be more different.

LeBron James is considered to be the best player in the world. He's the reigning league and NBA Finals MVP, which further solidified his status as the elite of the elite.

The result of this game will do nothing to help or harm that level of respect.

Rudy Gay, meanwhile, is entering his second game as the franchise player of the Raptors. Although some might speculate that this is familiar territory for Gay, that is hardly the case.

The Memphis Grizzlies were always coached in a team-oriented manner, preaching togetherness over star power.

In Toronto, meanwhile, Gay will be the main source of offense. The Raptors are coached by a defensive-minded Dwane Casey and have been searching for a reliable lead scorer for quite some time.

Matched up against LeBron and the Heat, Gay has a chance to prove he is one of the NBA's truly elite scorers.

 

Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

X-Factor: Amir Johnson, Toronto Raptors

Over the past five games, Amir Johnson is averaging 14.6 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. If the Toronto Raptors are to defeat the Miami Heat, that is the type of performance Johnson is going to need to put forth.

If he fails to, Toronto will have a long game ahead of it.

For those unfamiliar, Johnson is a physical defender with a new-found consistency on the offensive end of the floor. Always a threat to throw down a jaw-dropping dunk, Johnson has begun to develop into a reliable pick-and-roll finisher.

When he's at his best, however, Johnson is dominating the offensive glass.

Fortunately for Johnson, Miami ranks 18th in offensive rebounds allowed per game. This opens the door for Johnson to make an impact on this game by creating second chance scoring opportunities for his team.

If Johnson is able to do so, the Raptors may just have enough to secure a victory. If he is unable to, however, Miami should control the pace of this game.

The pressure is on.

  

Prediction

When Rudy Gay leads the Toronto Raptors against LeBron James and the Miami Heat, this game will come down to emotion and will to win. Although the Raptors will keep it close, LeBron James has a place atop the Eastern Conference to protect.

Look for Miami to win a close one.

Rudy Gay will score with consistency and power, while Amir Johnson will patrol the painted area. The true star for Toronto, however, will be point guard Kyle Lowry.

Lowry will facilitate and score his way to a dominant performance, all the while establishing the Toronto offense.

On the other end, LeBron will lead the charge as he flirts with a triple-double. Dwyane Wade will take on the scoring load, while Chris Bosh steps up with late baskets to sink his former team.

Expect Ray Allen to bounce back, as well.

Miami Heat 113, Toronto Raptors 109

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