The NBA playoff schedule can sometimes be agonizingly drawn out, but not in this case: Less than 48 hours after eliminating the Indiana Pacers in Game 7, the Toronto Raptors will be right back on their home court for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, facing Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat.
The Raptors won three of their four meetings with Miami during the regular season, including two games in Toronto. There’s little to glean from those contests, though – Wade sat out one of the games at Air Canada Centre, while most of the other starters were sidelined for the other. Ex-Raptor Chris Bosh, meanwhile, has been out of the lineup since February because of a blood clot on one of his lungs.
As the No. 2-seeded Raptors play into the second round for the first time since 2001, here are some of the challenges the No. 3-seeded Heat may pose – and how Toronto might overcome them.
Meet the supervillain: Dwyane Wade
Raptors fans despised Paul Pierce in the playoffs. Then Paul George. Now it will be Wade. The veteran of 13 NBA seasons currently shares the playoff lead for field goals (56) with George and Kemba Walker. The 34-year-old has adapted his game in recent years, and while he may not be as athletic, he’s still very creative. So Toronto may enlist several players to guard him, likely DeMarre Carroll or rookie Norman Powell. “Dwyane Wade is one of the guys I modelled my game after growing up,” Powell said. “He’s really crafty with the ball and a great post-up player. He uses his body so well, he finishes and gets to the line and he’s a great pump-fake guy. It will be really a test for me not to get in early foul trouble.”
Rim protector: Hassan Whiteside
Miami’s starting centre leads the playoffs in blocked shots (24). He has grabbed 80 rebounds – fourth among playoff rebounders (Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas is third with 83). Bismack Biyombo and Valanciunas can expect physical challenges around the rim from Miami’s seven-footer. “We’re definitely going to be conscious of where he is at all times, but you can’t be afraid to make the right plays, drive, make him jump, use dump-off passes,” Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry said. “Obviously, J.V. might be shooting a few more jump shots than we normally would see because that’s just the shot Whiteside gives up.”
Point guard battle
Lowry was teammates with Goran Dragic five years ago, playing for the Houston Rocket. Dragic was the backup then, and the two had a tense competition for playing time. Now he runs the floor for Miami. Dragic had a tough go at times against Walker in the Charlotte series, but he is coming off a huge effort on Sunday, when he led his team with 25 points in Game 7 to help the Heat to a second straight elimination-game victory. “[Indiana point guard] George [Hill] played well, but Goran is a lot more of an attacker,” said Lowry.
Return of Joe Johnson
Remember Joe Johnson’s 29- and 32-point games against the Raptors during the 2014 playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets? Now he’s providing veteran scoring to the Heat since they added him midseason and made him the starting shooting guard. Carroll will likely see some minutes defending Johnson, since the Atlanta Hawks used Carroll on him last year against Brooklyn. “We went toe to toe in that one,” Carroll said. “I know Joe.”
The Pacers were able to double-team and stifle DeMar DeRozan and Lowry through much of their first-round series, so you can guess the Heat have been studying up on the way Indy’s defenders held the two all-stars to less than 32 per cent shooting from the field, and 17 per cent from three-point range. Miami uses Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson for those assignments. Expect those reserves to get in the faces of Toronto’s backcourt stars.Report Typo/Error