They say life is about timing, well the same can be true in sports. The Raptors have the misfortune of being the team to play Miami after they get blown about by the Memphis Grizzlies. Much like when the Raptors got embarrassed in Atlanta has happened in Miami. They had the team meeting and the star in D-Wade just listening it all sounds familiar. The Raptors came out of their meeting like a different basketball team and pulled off 3 straight wins. The Heat have in general come back to the pack. They lost a close one in L.A on the road to the Lakers. It seems as that might have sucked the wind out of this team. Quinton Richardson has found new life in Miami but may not be in the line-up tonight. Oh and that players meeting was called for by Jermaine O'Neal. He has had a bounce back year in Miami and you wonder where was this leadership when he was in Toronto. The J.O trade was one of the worst ones for the Raptors in recent memory. Not just because of J.O for T.J Ford but for Roy Hibbert for Nathan Jawai. Hibbert is starting to look like a guy on his way to a solid career in the NBA. While Nathan Jawai was a nice guy but is just hanging on in terms of being in the NBA in Minnesota.
So it is safe to say you can expect a fired up Miami Heat team looking to bounce back from a terrible performance. The one good thing is in the win vs Houston Toronto got off to a fast start. They will need to answer the bell again tonight to match Miami's intensity. The Raps will also need to do an effective job at guarding the perimeter. The Heat have a lot of weapons beyond the arc. The Raptors are coming off one of their best performances in terms of 3 point terms of 3 point defense.
Both teams are 4-6 in their last 10 games and the Raptors at 11-15 sit just 2 games behind Miami that who are 11-11 and in 5th in the East. When you think about all the issues the Raptors have struggled through they are still just 2 games out of 5th place. Not bad when you consider for most Raptor fans that are realistic that was the high end goal. Although the way the season has played up so far that would win you a 7 games series with Lebron James. It seems clear there is a major divide in the Eastern Conference between 4th and 5th. The Raptors should be good enough to compete with the teams 5-15 in the East. The prospects for making the playoffs still look good. The prospects for advancing once you get there look bleak. That being said this is December and there is a long way to go. Still games vs Miami could be meaningful in April and the Raps already have 1 win against the Heat this year and if they could steal a second on the road it may mean a lot down the line. Miami has not been a good home team at just 6-7 on their home floor.
This is the opening half of a back to back for the Raptors and they face a Magic team that has had no trouble getting 2 wins up in Toronto in November. The Magic struggled their way to a win over the Pacers last night. They eventually would come out on top 106-98. The Magic have managed to keep the train on the tracks without Nelson at point guard. The Raptors have also been getting by without Jose Calderon thanks to some great play by Jarrett Jack.
The Raptors have some games they can and should win coming up on the schedule and could if they get thing together finish December strong and get close to that .500 mark if all goes well. But in order for that to be a realistic goal they need to get a split on this Florida back to back. It seems that Miami is the easier of those 2 to get despite the fact the Heat will be "fired up". The Raptors have been inconsistent at the best of times this year and they really need to develop some consistency if they want to jump to the front of the rest of the pack in the East. The team or teams that do will at least have a chance to avoid Orlando or Boston in the first round of the Playoffs. At least that is how it is looking in December. You never know what could come around the corner. If the Cavs lost Lebron for example for any amount of time they would be toast. But bottom line of it all for the Raps is as bad as things have been they have not really cost themselves anything in terms of being off target for where most people saw them finishing. Home court in the playoffs is likely already likely gone but a good position in the playoffs is still in sight. Just because it is December does not change that some games mean more than others and tonight is one of those.