Miami (43-38) could be Southeast Division champions before tip-off if Washington lose at home to Boston on Tuesday night. Otherwise, a win in this game would be enough to see off the Wizards via tiebreaker for the division title and secure the No. 6 spot over the Milwaukee Bucks after winning the season series against them.
The Heat, though, have put themselves in this scenario with back-to-back losses after being run out of their own home following a 115-93 setback to Oklahoma City on Monday night. Josh Richardson scored 18 points, but the Heat wilted against a desperate Thunder team and were outscored 39-12 in the fourth quarter.
Toronto (59-22) have nothing to play before aside the esthetically pleasing look of recording the first 60-win season in club history. The Raptors, who will be the top seed in the Eastern Conference, have won four straight after a 108-98 victory at Detroit on Monday night in which they overcame a 17-point first-half deficit.
Jonas Valanciunas scored 25 points on 11-of-13 shooting as Toronto gave only Serge Ibaka the night off among their starting five, while Fred VanVleet and Lucas Nogueira were held out with light injuries.
Three keys to the game
Toronto's pipeline also looks good - Lorenzo Brown, who plays guard for the Raptors' G League affiliate Raptors 905, was named the developmental league's MVP after averaging 18.8 points, 8.9 assists and 1.8 steals in 32 games in helping Raptors 905 reach the finals for the second straight year. Brown had 11 points and five minutes in 24 minutes of Monday's victory.
Spoelstra unhappy with Heat's mental toughness - While Miami were outscored 31-8 at the foul line, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was disappointed with the way his team went about running their offense, especially in the fourth quarter when things fell apart.
"We didn't work the offense to get the shots we wanted," Spoelstra told the Sun-Sentinel. "We did not handle the discrepancy well and it was tough when they just keep on going to the line," Spoelstra said. "That's when you have to show even more stability, whether you agree with it or not, and then be able to execute with great focus and force on the other end."
Will Casey rest anyone? - Raptors coach Dwane Casey has been balancing keeping his stars fresh and winning games and admitted after Monday's win he would have thrown starting guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry back out there if the outcome had been in question.
So it would not be surprising to see the starters log between 20 and 25 minutes and a liberal substitution pattern similar to Tuesday in which each of the second five in Casey's rotation played at least 18 minutes.
Matchup to watch
C Jonas Valanciunas vs C Hassan Whiteside - Valanciunas has quietly stepped up his game of late, averaging 14.5 points and 8.8 rebounds in his last ten games while shooting 58.7 percent and recording four double-doubles. His 25 points Monday night were his most since a 26-point effort at Brooklyn on March 13.
Whiteside has averaged 12.3 points and 8.7 rebounds in six games since returning from a hip injury but has averaged less than 22 minutes in those contests as Spoelstra has rationed his minutes, which upset the Heat pivot to the point he was fined for conduct detrimental to the team earlier this month.
Toronto Raptors projected starting lineup
PG - Kyle Lowry | SG - DeMar DeRozan | C - Jonas Valanciunas | SF - OG Anunoby | PF - Serge Ibaka
Miami Heat projected starting lineup
PG - Goran Dragic | SG - Tyler Johnson | C - Hassan Whiteside | SF - Josh Richardson | PF - James Johnson
Lowry has taken on more of a playmaker's role in the last eight games, averaging 10.3 points and 7.3 assists in that span while taking only 10.5 shots per game in that span. His 3-point shooting has been off in that stretch, making just 30.5 percent (18 for 59) in that stretch.
The Raptors point guard only played one of the two previous games against the Heat, totaling 22 points and eight assists in a 115-112 victory February 13. Lowry has averaged 13.6 points, 4.7 assists, and 4.6 rebounds in 23 career matchups versus Miami while shooting just 30 percent from 3-point range.
DeRozan came back from having a game off to total 16 points and seven assists against Detroit and has averaged 18.3 points and 6.5 assists in his last six games. He has been solid against the Heat this season, totaling 52 points and ten assists in the two games, and has averaged 22.9 points and 3.1 assists in 30 career matchups.
Heat guard Goran Dragic was held to a season-low four points in Monday night's loss as he shot just two of ten from the floor. Playing Toronto, though, could provide a bounce back as he has totaled 52 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists in the two meetings in 2017/18 while shooting 50 percent.
Dragic has totaled 13.2 points and 3.8 assists per game over 22 contests against Toronto, but those numbers tick higher to 17.0 points and 4.5 assists per game in the last 11 meetings.
Wayne Ellington has provided perimeter firepower in both meetings against the Raptors this season, going eight of 23 from 3-point range and totaling 30 points. Ellington, though, is in a funk lately, shooting just 29.2 percent from 3-point range and averaging 6.9 points in his last eight games.
There has yet to be a line established because it is uncertain if the Raptors will rest any of their regulars for the season finale. Toronto have covered just once in the last five meetings between the teams but are trying to extend a trend in which the road teams have covered in the last four matchups.
Toronto are 3-0-1 against the spread during their four-game win streak, which has all come against Eastern Conference opponents. The Raptors, though, are 1-4 versus the number in their last five road games and 2-6 in their last eight against teams with winning records. They are also 2-6 versus the number in their last eight road games versus teams with a home winning percentage above .600.
Miami are 16-4-3 in their last 23 against the spread versus above-.500 teams but have failed to cover in their last four at home and are 1-5 versus the number in their last six overall. They are also 3-7 against the spread at home in their last ten games facing teams with a winning road record.
The over/under is 205 points, and the under has trended in this series of late. It has hit in four of the last five games in Miami and in five of the last six overall. The under is 4-1-1 in Miami's last six home games and 5-2 in the last seven overall as well as 4-1 in Toronto's last five overall and against Eastern Conference rivals. The under also has a 5-1 mark in the Raptors' last six against Southeast Division teams.
While this could be a first-round playoff series, the results needed for it to happen are fairly remote since it would take a Heat loss plus two Wizards wins and possibly a Bucks victory.
Heat veteran guard Dwyane Wade told the Sun-Sentinel he was "OK with our effort in this game," but that also sounds like a player who has won multiple titles keeping his younger teammates calm ahead of the playoffs.
Miami failed to take advantage of a five-game stretch against non-playoff teams, and Monday night's loss may have exposed many of the shortcomings they have on a larger scale against playoff-caliber teams.
Casey offered an interesting take on the whole process of resting players and looking ahead to potential playoff matchups, which runs consistent with his old-school ways.
“I’ve seen over the years teams that try to manipulate that — you get what you ask for,” Casey told SportsNet. “In our league, karma is amazing. If you don’t do things with a pure heart and a pure mind and approach a game the right way, good things normally don’t happen.”
The fact he has actively campaigned to win this 60th game also runs consistent with his persona, and Casey will probably maintain his balance of minutes among starters and reserves as the Raptors go for that milestone victory.
The swing vote in this game could come down to the center position. If Valanciunas can follow up his strong game from Monday night with another such effort and Whiteside continues to be on an unspoken minutes restriction, the Raptors could squeak out a win here. Otherwise, stopping Dragic will be crucial to any chances of getting that victory, and look for the Raptors to get that done with a 105-100 victory.
The game will be televised nationally on TSNN and locally on Fox Sports Sun. Tip-off time is 8 pm EDT.
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