I was stunned to hear a conversation on NBA-TV (Not NBA TV Canada) about if the Raptors could be a playoff contender. It seemed crazy to consider a 8-16 team as a playoff team. But as we enter Sunday the Raptors sit 2.5 games behind the 10-13 Bucks for 8th in the East. The Raptors are 6-7 win Andrea Bargnani and 2-9 without him. So, if Bargnani is able to return sooner rather than later it is not a totally insane thought. If the Raptors some how made it to the playoffs there is a good chance they might play the Miami Heat. The Heat enter today at 17-6 a game and half behind the Chicago Bulls. On paper a match-up with the Raptors and Heat in playoffs would be a 4-0 slam dunk for Miami. A regular season game with no Bargnani offers even less hope of a win. The Heat are 10-2 on their home floor. Chris Bosh is playing closer to the Bosh we remember in Toronto than the inconsistent 3rd wheel that many last season refused to acknowledge as part of the big three. Bosh is averaging 20 points a game and 7.7 rebounds. The Heat after a failed trip to the NBA Finals are not the circus that they were last season. Another guy that is playing more like the former version of himself is Lebron James. Averaging 29.2 points, 7 assists and 8.5 Rebounds. Bosh and James have been so good it as led some to say that they really don't even need Dwyane Wade. It has been an injury plagued season for Wade and he is only averaging .7 points more than Chris Bosh. Added to the mix this season for Miami was Shane Battier who helps a team that already played a solid brand of defence.
So how can the Raptors win this game? They can't or shouldn't have a chance to win this game. Only way they have a chance is if Miami beats Miami. Which playing an early game on Super Bowl Sunday might have already happened in the bars on South Beach. But even a Heat team that partied all night still might have enough for the Bargnani free Raptors. All that said the Raptors are coming off one of their better performances of the season. But that was against the Washington Wizards. There is nothing about the Wizards that resembles the Heat.
So 3 Keys:
Stop Bosh: Miami being Miami will likely look to target Bosh and try and give him a big day vs his former team. So expect the Heat to feed him the ball often. He is going get his if they have anything to say about. Trouble is how much can you really ask a team to focus on Bosh with James and Wade on the floor. If it was me I would stick Amir Johnson on him and take my chances it doesn't get him in foul trouble.
Score 48: No not 48 points. That would be bad. Score for 48 minutes, if the Raptors hit any scoring droughts they are dead. Heat can score easy and often most times and you need to keep pace. A traditional first quarter failure from the Raptors and this game will be over at half time.
Identify Shooters: Important to realize when shooters are on the floor. Guys like Mike Miller and others that are capable of making 3 pointers. It is hard enough to stop the Big 3 as it is let alone if they have guys dropping bombs from around the 3 point arc.
Raptors will lose today that is almost certain but the good news is they move on to play the Wizards. They just need to not get dismantled today and still feel good about themselves when they leave Miami. They might not feel so good about missing the Super Bowl. But this is a business trip after all.