The Eastern Conference playoff bracket is still a mess with less than a week remaining in the NBA regular season. There are close two-team battles for both the first and third seeds, while seeds five through nine are separated by just two games.
Two of the teams in the thick of things, the 38-40 Miami Heat and 48-31 Toronto Raptors, meet tonight in Toronto (7:30pm ET Friday).
Miami has played excellent basketball ever since the middle of January. The Heat are 27-10 in their last 37 games and have officially established themselves as the team no high seed wants to face in the first round. They are currently No. 8 in the East, but they’d definitely appreciate moving up to avoid potentially meeting the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.
Toronto exceeded expectations while star point guard Kyle Lowry was sidelined with a wrist injury, going 14-7 in his absence. Lowry played his first game in more than a month against the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday and he paced the squad with 27 points and 10 assists in a comeback win.
Which hot team will have the advantage at the Air Canada Centre on Friday? We’ll look at the angles in this preview, then make a couple of betting predictions and picks against the spread.
Is Kyle Lowry Ready to Go Toe-to-Toe With Goran Dragic?
Lowry didn’t look rusty at all against the Pistons. His 27 points and 10 assists on 9-of-16 shooting would be a good stat line for any game, but it’s especially impressive for a first contest back from injury.
However, he only had to face off against Ish Smith on Wednesday. Today he’ll have to outplay Goran Dragic, Miami’s star point guard whose game took off when the team did. Dragic is on a remarkable streak of 42 consecutive games of at least 13 points.
Lowry’s form will definitely be put to the test on Friday, especially on defense. Since these teams play at a similar level overall, the team whose primary playmaker performs better should have the upper hand.
Will the Heat Injuries Affect Their Depth?
OK, obviously a team’s depth gets worse when it has injured players. But for the Heat, their depth is a major part of their attack. The squad has lost starters Dion Waiters and Luke Babbitt to injuries in the last couple weeks, which pushes two would-be reserves into bigger roles in the starting lineup. So far, Josh Richardson and James Johnson have replaced Waiters and Babbitt, respectively.
The shuffling weakens the Miami bench, which is usually a strength. Can the Heat still have a diverse enough attack and enough firepower in reserve to counter the Raptors’ experienced bench core of P.J. Tucker, Patrick Patterson and Cory Joseph?
Can the Raptors Move the Ball Enough?
Toronto has a very good offense, but it does tend to let the ball stick. The squad is last in the NBA in assists per game (18.5). However, the Raptors are 9-0 when they hand out at least 25 assists, and they average 116.4 points per game in those contests.
Miami, on the other hand, is one of the best defenses in the league. The Heat are good at pressuring opponents on the perimeter to force late shot-clock isolation situations, and that usually results in fewer assists. Naturally, they allow the second-fewest assists per game in the NBA (19.7).
The Heat will have the upper hand in this matchup if they can make Lowry and DeMar DeRozan play hero ball against them. If the ball is hopping for the Raptors, they will have a great chance of holding serve at home.
Our Preview’s Miami Heat at Toronto Raptors Betting Picks & Predictions
Kyle Lowry may be still adjusting to life on the court, but he proved a lot on Wednesday with his excellent performance. Aside from that, the Raptors have much more offensive firepower in the starting lineup and more defensive chops on the bench. With the Heat’s injuries, Toronto is deeper.
Ball movement will be one key thing, but I think Lowry, as the general of the offense, won’t want to put too much stress on himself. He’ll make sure a lot of guys get touches.
- With Toronto favored by five points with the American online betting sites, this preview advises picking the Raptors -5pts @ -110 betting odds with BetOnline or MyBookie sportsbooks to cover that spread, especially given that they’ll be at home. The spread is -5.5pts for the same odds with Bovada and 5Dimes.
- The over-under for this game is 206.5 total points to be scored. All three matchups so far this season have combined for 193 points or fewer. I’d say 206.5 is boldly high for these teams, so our betting pick is to go under 206.5pts @ -110 again with MyBookie or BetOnline. 5Dimes is under 206pts and Bovada has not yet priced the total.