Miami has the pleasure of home-court advantage; they are 16-3 at American Airlines Arena this season.
Toronto is out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture but is not a team to be written off. The Raptors just defeated the experienced (albeit struggling) Los Angeles Lakers on January 20, and that's a big win no matter how you look at it.
For Miami, this is a game that is just about asserting itself as a dominant power in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors are a fairly weak team dealing with some key injuries and, at least on paper, the defending champion Heat should have this one in the bag.
However, do not count out Toronto yet. Their victory over the Lakers proved them to be a young and feisty squad capable of doing some great things with the right tools, and they'll be out to extend their streak to two against the Heat.
An upset win for the Raptors would certainly be great for the team, but it should not be ignored that they have still lost four of their last five.
Thus, though something of a turnaround against Miami certainly is possible, it's going to be hard to come by in this battle of the Eastern Conference's elite against a young squad looking to get the formula right.
Time: Wednesday, January 23rd, 7:30 p.m. EST
TV: Sun Sports, TSN2
Records: Toronto Raptors (15-26) vs. Miami Heat (26-12)
Betting Line: Toronto (+11), Miami (-11), via Sportsbook
Key Storyline: Do Raptors Have Another Upset in Their Bones?
The Miami Heat are the worst rebounding team in the league and often struggle against teams with more size than them. Toronto certainly has solid men in the paint in the form of Ed Davis and Amir Johnson, but rank just 28th in rebounding.
This certainly changes the face of the game, primarily because the Heat's offensive approach is all about overwhelming the opposition with a modified run-and-gun game. However, in the event that the shots are not falling, defense becomes anybody's game.
Moreover, the Heat may not have LeBron James on the floor tonight, as the reigning MVP battles a cold. Take his scoring and playmaking abilities out of the equation, and this game becomes a lot closer.
James is a soldier and likely will play, but the Heat must be prepared for the possibility that he won't be able to go. If he's out, Toronto will be playing with an extra bounce in its collective step, stopping at nothing to slay another giant.
Thus, Erik Spoelstra must have his men watching loads of tape and preparing themselves for the Raptors' potential onslaught. This game may look like a blowout waiting to happen, but the Raptors have proven that they are not a squad to be taken lightly.
Key Matchup: Chris Bosh vs. Amir Johnson
As was mentioned before, the way to beat the Heat is to out-rebound them, and that means outclassing Chris Bosh in the paint. Miami's big man has averaged 17.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game this season, and has also shot a respectable 54.5 percent from the field.
However, though Bosh has the size to play center at 6'11", 235 pounds, he does not necessarily play like one. He is more like a scoring power forward, utilizing his jump shot frequently and not going out of his way to stand and bang under the basket or play the low post like most true centers do.
He'll be in for an interesting matchup tonight against Amir Johnson, who loves to play the low post but is undersized for center at 6'9", 210 pounds. Johnson has only averaged nine points and 6.4 rebounds on the season, but has posted 12 points and 8.6 boards over his last five games.
Though he does not have as much experience in the starting lineup as Bosh, Johnson needs to do all he can to keep up with him and force him out of his comfort zone. This means making the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket play the low post, forcing him to stay in the paint and under the basket.
This also means keeping up with the Heat's fast-paced offense, which is easier said than done. Still, if Johnson can ensure that Bosh has an off-night, then the Raptors at least have a small chance at pulling off the upset.
X-Factor: Mario Chalmers
With LeBron James fighting a cold, Dwyane Wade playing with a sore toe and Chris Bosh potentially having his hands full in guarding Amir Johnson, Miami could use a solid game from Mario Chalmers. The former Kansas Jayhawk is not necessarily an elite point guard, but has made his NBA bones as an excellent pest and solid three-point shooter.
On the season, Chalmers is averaging 1.6 steals per game while shooting 40 percent from long range. His prowess from beyond the arc is good enough to have given him a 34-point performance against the Sacramento Kings on January 12, and the Heat might need him to have a similar game tonight.
Chalmers is likely going to be guarded by a weaker defender in Jose Calderon, though the pesky Kyle Lowry may take over at some point. Either way, Chalmers must take advantage and use his talents on both sides of the floor to slow down Toronto's approach.
This means engaging in the full-court press early on, really making Calderon and Lowry work to find the open man. On offense, he needs to be ready to take the open three-point shot if called upon. There must not be any hesitation whatsoever, or the Heat may be sunk and find themselves in the thick of a Raptors run.
Fortunately, Chalmers plays with ice water in his veins and has been solid over his last five games, averaging 13.4 points and shooting an astounding 57.1 percent from long range. If he can keep the production up against Toronto and turn in a solid game on both ends of the court, Miami's attack becomes more complete and their chances of winning grow.
This is the Heat's game to lose. Rebounding has been their bugaboo all season long, and facing another weak rebounding squad in the Toronto Raptors gives them a chance to utilize their offense to the best of its abilities.
Tonight, the team will have a vintage Miami victory. There will be high scoring, a sense of urgency on defense and a final score with a margin so wide that fans look at it just to see who scored the most points.
LeBron James will step on the court to fight through his cold and have another excellent playmaking game, with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh sinking some clutch shots to help the cause. Even Ray Allen will get involved and chip in 10 points off the bench.
The Raptors will try to keep up with Miami, but to no avail. Johnson will not be able to stop Bosh, and the shooting struggles of DeMar DeRozan will continue.
Thus, expect a blowout in South Beach that shows everyone that despite defensive struggles, Miami is still the team to beat in the NBA.
Miami Heat 110, Toronto Raptors 88
All statistics in this article are accurate as of January 22, 2013
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