Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Eastern Conference Playoffs Preview: Toronto Raptors vs. Miami Heat
Tonight on TNT, the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat begin their second round series in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. The Raptors come into this series having survived a seven-game scare against the Indiana Pacers while the Heat come into this series having played a seven-game series of their own against the Charlotte Hornets.
For the Raptors, it would have been disastrous to fall to the Pacers. Lord knows what the aftermath would have been. The media in Toronto would have rightfully questioned the mental fortitude of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry should they have gone down to the Pacers. As for the Heat, a loss to the Hornets wouldn't have been a big deal since Chris Bosh is out. Most people would have chalked up an exit to the Hornets as a result of his absence and the Hornets being a team on the rise.
If the Raptors want to win this series against the Heat, the main thing they need to do is hold serve at home. If the Raptors go down in Game 1 or Game 2, the Heat will have a tremendous amount of confidence in their ability to win the series since the Raptors will appear vulnerable. Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Jonas Valanciunas have to come out strong and confident as a trio. If they do, the Heat will have their work cut out for them. If they falter and don't play up to their maximum potential, the Heat will be in a prime position to pounce.
If the Heat want to win this series against the Raptors, they'll have to do whatever they can to get a game in Toronto and get in the Raptors' head. The Raptors are mentally fragile at the moment and the Heat know it. If the Heat can get a game in Toronto, they'll get in the Raptors' head big time and make them question themselves.
In addition, the Heat should really rely on their veteran playoff experience to win this series. Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem both have three championship rings and are very battle tested. Their veteran leadership made the difference in the series against the Hornets and I look for it to make a similar impact against the Raptors. Wade and Haslem know what it takes to win a seven-game playoff series while the Raptors are still figuring out how to do it.
With that all being said, I still have to pick the Raptors to win this series in seven games. It'll be a close series that will go back and forth, but at the end of the day, the Raptors will get this done. The Raptors should have some confidence from their series against the Pacers that will serve them well against the Heat. Even though the Raptors showed signs of mental frailty against the Pacers, they only bended as opposed to breaking.
Going through a tough series and surviving makes young teams like the Raptors stronger. I expect DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, and Jonas Valanciunas to step up and deliver the goods for the lone Canadian city in the NBA. With a tough series under their belt, they now know they can win a playoff series. With that hurdle now cleared, I expect them to play with a lot more confidence and do what they've done all season, which is be the second best team in the Eastern Conference. Don't get me wrong, the Heat will challenge the Raptors and push them all the way. But in a Game 7 in the city of Toronto, I have to roll with the Raptors.