The Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors both feel good about their potential for making a deep playoff run entering Monday’s meeting near Orlando.
Both franchises pride themselves on playing stingy defensive and cohesive offense.
Toronto entered the restart with a fully healthy rotation for the first time since the early days of the season. The defending NBA champions are among the favorites to reach the Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks in what would be a rematch of their 2019 series.
Miami, led by wing Jimmy Butler and his Type-A personality, may have what it takes to pull some surprises. The famed “Heat Culture” seems like a perfect fit for the NBA bubble because this is a serious-minded team that does a great job of eliminating distractions.
That Heat mindset was in evidence on Saturday night as Miami shut down the Denver Nuggets, 125-105.
“We’re locked in defensively,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said. “We played a lot harder in the second half.”
The Raptors, who beat the Los Angeles Lakers 107-92 on Saturday, have been seemingly overlooked by numerous NBA observers. The source of that so-called disrespect stems from forward Kawhi Leonard’s decision to bolt from Toronto after leading the Raptors to the 2019 NBA title.
That left the Raptors without a true superstar — not that it bothers Toronto coach Nick Nurse.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to pay too much attention to us,” Nurse said. “But that’s OK. We know we’re tough to beat, and I don’t think we’ve reached our ceiling yet.”
Toronto is second in the NBA in steals and second in fewest points allowed in the paint.
Miami is second in the NBA in fewest points allowed on fast breaks and tied for second in defensive rebound percentage.
The Raptors are led in scoring by forward Pascal Siakam, who was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player last season when he averaged 16.9 points. This season, the fourth-year pro is averaging 23.5 points, although he had a poor shooting performance Saturday night against the Lakers (5 of 17).
Raptors veteran point guard Kyle Lowry leads the team in assists (7.6) and is second in scoring (20.0). He was impressive against the Lakers with 33 points.
The rest of Toronto’s starting lineup includes shooting guard Fred VanVleet (17.5 points, team-high 1.9 steals); small forward OG Anunoby (10.9 points); and 7-1 veteran center Marc Gasol (7.6 points, 6.4 rebounds). Guard Norman Powell (16.2 points) and big man Serge Ibaka (team-high 8.2 rebounds) are the key reserves.
Miami, which is 2-0 against the Raptors this season, started Adebayo, Butler and Jae Crowder in its frontcourt on Friday. Rookie point guard Kendrick Nunn and sharp-shooting Duncan Robinson started in the backcourt.
But the Heat — a team with excellent depth — got 20 points, all in the fourth quarter, from backup center Kelly Olynyk, who made 8-of-11 shots from the floor, including 4-of-6 on 3-pointers.
Miami’s bench also includes point guard Goran Dragic, a 2018 All-Star; shooting guard Tyler Herro, Miami’s standout first-round pick; and veteran wing Andre Iguodala, who already has won three NBA titles and an Olympic gold medal.
Butler leads Miami in scoring (20.3), assists (6.1) and steals (1.7). Adebayo leads the Heat in rebounds (10.5) and blocks (1.3). Secondary scoring comes from Adebayo (16.3); Dragic (16.0) and Nunn (15.6).
–Field Level Media