The Toronto Raptors look to build on a New Year’s Eve win when they visit the Miami Heat in a battle of Eastern Conference contenders on Thursday night. Toronto topped Cleveland to move to 23-11 on the season, just 1.5 games behind Miami for third in the Eastern Conference standings.
When these two teams last got together, the game went to the wire, and we should expect that again. Even as Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell and Marc Gasol miss several games with injuries at the same time, Nick Nurse’s team just continues to perform. The show goes on as the next man up moniker defines their success.
Kyle Lowry is playing the best ball of his career, while Serge Ibaka is looking comfortable as a starter again. They have guys playing hard-nosed defense at all five positions, allowing the system to continue to work.
Miami has dealt with injuries, too, as its lineups have changed a few times. But the guys out there every night look to be the best they’ve got, with their draft success and offseason trades paying dividends. Kendrick Nunn is looking like a serious candidate for Rookie of the Year, while Tyler Herro is making every clutch shot he takes.
Jimmy Butler is starring as a playmaker rather than just a scorer, while Meyers Leonard plays well at the 4. Duncan Robinson is shooting it like a man possessed this year, nearly more impressive than Davis Bertans in Washington.
The spread for Thursday night’s game in Miami has the Heat favored by 5.5 points. The over/under is set at 214.
Despite dealing with several key injuries and also being without sharpshooter Matt Thomas — among others — the show goes on for the Raptors. Patrick McCaw has played the best basketball of his NBA career as he has been trusted to shoulder more responsibility. Lowry and Fred VanVleet, both under 6-3, are dominating on both ends of the floor to power the team.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and OG Anunoby have continued to play aggressively on the offensive end, while Ibaka is blocking all of the shots taken in his paint. What a magnificent job Nurse has done yet again with this team.
The keys for the Raptors getting a victory Thursday night will be all centered around the effectiveness of their defense. They truly never have to worry about making shots, so it will be about if they can keep their opponent in check.
Looking To Stay Hot
With only one starter carrying over from last year, the Heat has gotten off to a start that is making them look like the old Big Three Miami teams. Every single player is out there doing their job well, and then the bench comes in and stretches the lead further. Justise Winslow was supposed to remain as the starting point guard in the crowded lineup, but as he has failed to stay healthy.
Nunn has come in and taken that spot away, averaging almost 18 points per game. He and Jimmy Butler, along with Bam Adebayo, have been scoring at will, as Robinson buries all the threes.
The Heat have gotten a tremendous defensive effort out of Derrick Jones Jr., the most explosive dunker in the league, and it’s helped.
Miami Wins At Home
This will be a close one, but the Heat will get it done in front of the home fans to move to 25-9 on the season and widen their lead for third place in the East.
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