By: Rossy Pasternak
As a huge Toronto Raptors supporter, as well as writing for a Toronto based sports blog, I have taken a lot of flack for predicting the Raptors to miss the playoffs at the beginning of the year. They have surprised me and not only made it to the playoffs, but also the second round! They will face off against Dwayne Wade’s Miami Heat, so here are the keys for the Raptors to #BeatTheHeat.
Whenever you think of Miami in the playoffs, you always have to think about Dwayne Wade. Wade has 3 NBA championships, and has played 152 NBA playoff games. Erik Spoelstra, head coach of the Heat, also has proven to be one of the best playoff coaches in the game. He excels and calling plays out of timeouts, game-planing against star players, and making in game adjustments – all things that you can question with Dwayne Casey. And then the Heat have Raptor killer Joe Johnson who, along with Paul Pierce and KG, two years ago crushed the hopes and dreams of many Raptor fans. With all these factors working against them, the Raps have their work cut out for them.
The Raptors also have their own advantages against the Heat though. First off, and this is huge – the Raptors have home court advantage. Playing in Miami is never easy, so the Raptors will have to defend their home court. The ACC is going to be ready to rock when things kick off later today, as this is just the second time this franchise has made it past the first round – and the first time for this new generation of fans.
Other than home court, the Raptors also got lucky, as former Raptor Chris Bosh is out once again with blood clots. As a fan of CB1 (formerly CB4), I wish him good health and a long, successful career – but it is huge for the Raptors that he is out. With Bosh out though, Luol Deng has moved to the power forward position, and is playing some of the best basketball of his career. If I was the head coach of the Raptors, and admittedly I am not, I would shake up the starting lineup to match up with the Heat’s small-ball approach. Instead of starting Patterson, who is more comfortable coming off the bench, I would move DeMarre Carroll to the 4 to cover Patterson, and start Norman Powell. That would leave the matchups like this:
Lowry vs. Dragic
Powell vs. Wade
DeRozan vs. Johnson
Carroll vs. Deng
Valenciunas vs. Whiteside
That starting lineup matches up well at every position, and will be able to defend very well.
Hassan Whiteside could be the biggest pain in the ass for the Raptors to deal with. He is an elite athlete who protects the rim very well, and rebounds even better. Whiteside will likely take away much of JV’s offence, and will force the Raptors to rely more on their jumpers because of his rim protection. If Lowry and DeRozan continue their poor shooting, the series could be over very quickly. The key to getting around Whiteside’s rim protection is to either go really small, and therefore pull him away from the basket, or to drive right at him and draw fouls. The Raptors, DeRozan especially, are great at getting to the line, but in the playoffs, the refs sometimes swallow their whistles. It will be very interesting to see how this series is called by the officials, and what they will let go.
This is bound to be a great series, and one that is too hard to predict. Here are the keys for the Raptors to win game one, and the series.
1. Tell Drake to Take a Seat
Drake is slowly becoming the Raptors version of Spike Lee, sitting courtside and chirping the other team’s best players. He managed not to draw the ire of Paul George in the first round, but I consider that to be lucky. Dwayne Wade got into it with a Charlotte fan in game 6 of their series, and it looked as if it motivated him even more. That event reminded me of Spike Lee vs. Reggie Miller. I hope Drake learns from that fan, and keeps his mouth shut when it comes to D-Wade. I do not want to see that guy pissed off if I’m the Raps.
2. Force Turnovers
The Raptors rarely had many chances to get out in transition against Indiana, as the Pacers rarely turned the ball over. The Heat are a little more prone to turnovers, and it would be smart for the Raptors if they ran in transition and capitalized quickly on those. With Whiteside in the paint, it will be hard for the Raptors to get easy layups or dunks in a half-court offence. If the Raptors are able to get those easy transition buckets, it will open up the offence for them.
3. Find a Way to Reignite Kyle Lowry
Lowry has been abysmal in the playoffs, shooting just 31.6% from the field, and 16.3% from beyond the arc. If the Raptors can find away to get Lowry going and have him see a few shots go in the net early on in this series, he could carry them to a series win. Lowry can singlehandedly win a game for the Raptors, like he did against Cleveland in on February 26th when he scored a career-high 43 points and led the team to a comeback victory. If he can up his level of play to anywhere close to that game in this series, the Raptors should get by Miami easily.