The Raptors have been almost unbeatable of late and continued their winning form with a 123-103 victory over Charlotte on Sunday. DeMar DeRozan had 25 points and eight assists in the win, while CJ Miles came off the bench to shoot 6-of-9 from 3-point range on his way to 24 points. With the Celtics losing to Cleveland, Toronto moved into first place in the Eastern Conference standings thanks to their record of 39-16.
On Tuesday they will host a Heat side coming off, at long last, a victory, having defeated the Bucks 91-85 in their last game. Despite the win, they remain in eighth place in the east, just clinging onto a playoff spot after they were fourth just a couple of weeks ago. They are 30-26 for the season.
Three keys to the game
Can anyone stop the Raptors? - Toronto have been excellent all season, but they have taken it to another level in their past five games. In this time, they have won by at least 15 points in each game, and have an average winning margin of 21 points. Their offensive rating has improved from 110.5 to 117.5, while their defensive rating has tightened from 102.6 to 95.7. Their net rating of 21.9 during the past five games is comfortably the best in the league.
Have the Heat gone cold? - After charging to a 25-17 record just over halfway into the season, Miami have slowed down considerably, and have won just five of 14 games since. Their defense has remained relatively solid during this period, but their offense has dipped to the point where they score just 100.5 points per 100 possessions. This is worse than all other teams in the league barring the Suns.
Dominance in Canada - All season, Toronto have been terrific at home. Their record in Canada is 23-4, which is easily the best home record in the NBA. While their offense has been terrific - the fourth best in the NBA - it is their defense at the Air Canada Centre which has made them so tough to beat. Their defensive rating at home is 99.6, better than every other team in the league.
Matchup to watch
Kyle Lowry vs Goran Dragic - Both point guards in this game will play in the upcoming All-Star game, though neither was close to being a first choice. Lowry is a terrific player but has regressed this year. His 16.4 points per game is six less than last season, his 41.5% shooting is 5.0% lower, and his 6.4 assists are a marginal drop off, too. He is still a very capable player though, and can turn it on some nights.
Dragic made the All-Star team only on the back of an extraordinary run of injuries to Team LeBron players, but he has still had another solid season. He is averaging 17.2 points and 4.8 assists a game, and has been the leader of a team which was, until recently, one of the best in the East.
Toronto Raptors predicted starting lineup
PG - Kyle Lowry | SG - DeMar DeRozan | SF - OG Anunoby | PF - Serge Ibaka | C - Jonas Valanciunas
Miami Heat predicted starting lineup
PG - Goran Dragic | SG - Tyler Johnson | SF - Josh Richardson | PF - Justise Winslow | C - Hassan Whiteside
DeRozan averages more points against Miami than against any other side in the league barring Portland. In 29 outings against the Heat he averages 22.7 points per game on 46% shooting, as well as 4.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.3 steals.
When these two sides met in January, Edrice Adebayo had perhaps his best game in the NBA coming off the bench. ‘Bam’ played 33 minutes, filling the stats sheet with 16 points, 15 rebounds, three assists and a huge five blocks.
Miami have been given an eight-point head start by oddsmakers, and this won’t be enough. Toronto have won all of their past five games by at least 15 points, are a significantly better side at home, and will dispose of Miami comfortably. Back the Raptors at the line.
Toronto will continue on their merry way with a comfortable victory over a Heat team which has regressed in recent weeks. Though Dragic is a good player and Johnson is capable, DeRozan and Lowry will win the battle of the backcourt, putting up 50+ points and 12+ assists combined.
Valanciunas and Whiteside are both X-factor-type players, equally capable of putting in huge performances as they are of contributing nothing. If one of these guys gets going and the other has a down game, it could have a huge impact on this encounter.
Regardless, the Raptors should be able to get the job done with ease. They’ll stretch their home record to 24-4 with a 120-108 win.
The game will be broadcast locally on Sportsnet One and Fox Sports Sun. Tip-off is at 7pm ET.