Miami Heat vs. Toronto Raptors: Preview, Analysis and Predictions
Miami is coming off a win against the Milwaukee Bucks that not only extended their incredible winning streak but also exorcised the demons for a Heat team that has not played well against the Bucks all season long.
These Eastern Conference foes have squared off twice this season and the Heat have gotten the better of the Raptors in both instances. This game will be the pair's third and final meeting of the season.
Let's take a look at everything you need to know for the Heat versus the Raptors.
When: Sunday, March 17, at 1 p.m. EDT
Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, ON
Watch: TSN 2 and Sun Sports
Live Stream: NBA League Pass
Key Injuries (via ESPN)
PF Andrea Bargnani: Out for season (Elbow)
Key Storyline: Can Raptors Stop Heat's Streak?
This will be the top storyline for every game the Heat play as long as this streak continues.
The Raptors will have their work cut out for them in this game as the Heat come into this contest as the hottest team in the NBA.
Toronto did play Miami tough in the first meeting between the two as the Raptors pushed the Heat to overtime before LeBron James and company closed it out. In the second meeting, it wasn't as close after the Heat beat the Raptors by 15 points.
You can throw those two results out the window, however, as the Heat are playing their best basketball of the season right now, and the Raptors haven't seen anything like it yet.
Key Matchup: Rudy Gay vs. LeBron James
James is having another MVP-caliber season during the 2012-13 campaign and is, no doubt, the favorite to take home the award. The 28-year-old is averaging 26.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game. He is the best player on the planet right now, and there is nothing James can't do on a basketball floor.
Gay is the star player for the Raptors after the team acquired him earlier in the season, and he's helped add quite a bit of credibility to this team in his short time there. Gay is averaging 17.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.
Since joining Toronto, Gay is posting 2.2 steals per contest which is up nearly a full steal from his numbers in Memphis. The 26-year-old will need all the defensive prowess he can get in this matchup in order to contain James from completely dominating Toronto's 18th-ranked defense.
Gay has the impossible task of trying to stop James from doing what he normally does, which is scoring points and penetrating into the paint to draw multiple defenders, only to kick it out to a waiting three-point shooter. Granted, Gay won't be able to stop James from doing these things, but he can do his best to make it a bit more difficult throughout the game.
On the flip side, James is one of the league's elite defenders, and that will make things very difficult for Gay. The Raptors need their star player to get his normal point total—and then some—against a great team like the Heat, so if James can stop or contain Gay, Toronto will have an even tougher time winning this game.
X-Factor: Kyle Lowry
Gay and DeMar DeRozan will likely get their points against the Heat, but exactly where will the rest of the point output come from for the Raptors?
That's where Lowry comes in.
The Raptors point guard is the team's third-leading scorer now that Bargnani is on the shelf for the rest of the season, and he'll need to put the orange in the basket early and often for the Raptors to stand a chance in this game.
Furthermore, Lowry's facilitation of the Raptors offense will be important. If he's successful in running his team's offense, that will make it much easier for some of the Raptors' lesser-known players to get easy looks at the basket, and that will go a long way toward helping Toronto keep up with Miami offensively.
Look for Lowry to drive to the hoop and try to exploit the Heat down low, while also looking to dish it out to the perimeter for the Raptors to get open looks from beyond the arc.
Projected Starting Lineups
PG: Mario Chalmers
SG: Dwyane Wade
SF: LeBron James
PF: Udonis Haslem
C: Chris Bosh
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: Rudy Gay
PF: Amir Johnson
C: Jonas Valanciunas
There's no shame in losing to the Heat on any given night, let alone when they are on a 21-game winning streak. If the Raptors weren't able to top the Heat earlier in the season when the defending champs weren't at their best, chances are it won't happen on Sunday afternoon, either.
Toronto will need supreme defense from its interior presences, namely the two starters, Johnson and Valanciunas. However, it's unlikely both of those players have what it takes to stop the Heat from driving into the paint at will and doing what they please.
James will get his points and will make the Raptors' life a living hell as he penetrates and dishes his team to open looks, and guys like Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and Chris Bosh will finish the job from the outside.
In the end, the Heat just have too many ways to beat the Raptors and too many weapons to do it with. Toronto is improved on defense this season, but not enough to stop the incoming freight train that is Miami.
Miami Heat 101, Toronto Raptors 88
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