NBA Pick: Toronto Raptors at Miami Heat – Thursday, January 2

  • THE MATCHUP: Toronto Raptors at Miami Heat
  • WHEN IS IT: Thursday, January 2, 7:30 PM ET
  • THE LOCATION: American Airlines Arena, Miami, FL
  • TELEVISION: NBA TV, Fox Sports Sun, SN1

It may be a new year here in 2020, but for the Toronto Raptors (23-11), it’s still the season after Kawhi Leonard, and on Thursday, they’ll be taking on one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference in the Miami Heat (24-9).

Last season, Toronto would win the season series and in sweep fashion against the Miami Heat, 4-0, but this would be en route to the Raptors winning the NBA championship — the first in franchise history — with Kawhi Leonard at the helm. Leonard — the 2019 NBA Finals MVP — would leave for his hometown Los Angeles Clippers, and doing so after just one season with the Raptors that would deliver a title.

Before the season started, Toronto would come in with low expectations, but they have far overachieved any of the pundits’ original thoughts. At the moment, they’re placed in the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference and are only 1.5 games behind Miami.

Statistical Comparison: Toronto Raptors vs. Miami Heat

Offensive Production

Points-Per-Game

  • Toronto Raptors: 111.5 PPG
  • Miami Heat: 112.4 PPG

Field Goal Percentage

  • Toronto Raptors: 45.2 FG%
  • Miami Heat: 47.0 FG%

Assists-Per-Game

  • Toronto Raptors: 25.1 APG
  • Miami Heat: 25.1 APG

Defensive Protection

Points Allowed-Per-Game

  • Toronto Raptors: 105.9 PA
  • Miami Heat: 108.2 PA

Blocks-Per-Game

  • Toronto Raptors: 5.3 BLK
  • Miami Heat: 4.2 BLK

Steals-Per-Game

  • Toronto Raptors: 8.4 STL
  • Miami Heat: 7.9 STL

Rebounding

Rebounds-Per-Game

  • Toronto Raptors: 46.1 RPG
  • Miami Heat: 45.6 RPG

Current Stretch

Winning/Losing Streak

  • Toronto Raptors: W1
  • Miami Heat: LI

Last 10 Games

  • Toronto Raptors: 7-3
  • Miami Heat: 7-3

Last Five Games

  • Toronto Raptors: vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (W 117-97), vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (L 98-97), at Boston Celtics (W 113-97), vs. Boston Celtics (L 118-102), at Indiana Pacers (L 120-115 OT)
  • Miami Heat: at Washington Wizards (L 123-105), vs. Philadelphia 76ers (W 117-116 OT), vs. Indiana Pacers (W 113-112), vs. Utah Jazz (W 107-104), vs. New York Knicks (W 129-114)

Team Leaders

Points

  • Pascal Siakam (Toronto Raptors): 25.1 PPG, 45.7 FG%, 81.3 FT%
  • Jimmy Butler (Miami Heat): 20.8 PPG, 43.0 FG%, 82.7 FT%

Rebounds

  • Pascal Siakam (Toronto Raptors): 8.0 RPG, 6.6 DRPG, 1.4 ORPG
  • Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat): 10.6 RPG, 8.1 DRPG, 2.6 ORPG

Assists

  • Fred VanVleet (Toronto Raptors): 6.9 APG, 2.6 TOPG, 36.2 MPG
  • Jimmy Butler (Miami Heat): 6.6 APG, 2.5 TOPG, 35.4 MPG

In the season series here in the 2019-20 campaign, the two have only met twice this season, with the Heat getting the best of the Raptors in a 121-110 overtime victory. In that game, Jimmy Butler was flashy with a triple-double, putting up 22 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists in that contest.

“Just two good teams going at it,” Butler said. “We were fortunate enough to do our jobs.”

Also in the game would be the return of Kyle Lowry from injury — Toronto’s star point guard would miss 11 games before the square off against the Heat because of a fractured left thumb. In that game, Lowry would show obvious signs of rust, and it would be pretty dismal with him missing his first 11 shots of the contest. He would end up with a double-double with 12 points and 11 assists, but the shooting was horrendous going 2-of-18, as well as not hitting a single shot going 0-for-11 from behind the arc.

“That was terrible,” Lowry would tell the media regarding his numbers on the stat sheet. “But I’m sure I’ll be better.”

And he wasn’t wrong either. Lowry, who has made five All-Star games and is without a doubt the leader of the Toronto Raptors now that Leonard is out on the West Coast, has put up at least 20 points in the past three contests.

This season, Toronto’s leader is averaging 20.9 points-per-game, while also adding 7.5 assists-per-game to his line — he also leads the NBA in playing time with an average of 38.0 minutes-per-game.

“He’s their backbone,” said Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson about Lowry after his Cavs would get dropped by Toronto, 117-97, on Tuesday. “Kyle is a bulldog. He’s going to compete every night. That’s why his teammates always love him.”

On Thursday against a team like Miami, the Raptors will certainly need Lowry’s best work, especially considering the circumstances: They’re missing three of their starting players. Marc Gasol (left hamstring), Pascal Siakam (groin) and Norman Powell (left shoulder) will all be out for the game against the Heat, and all three were injured in a December 18 victory in Detroit over the Pistons.

Injury Report

Toronto Raptors

  • Pascal Siakam: Out (Groin)
  • Marc Gasol: Out (Hamstring)
  • Norman Powell: Out (Shoulder)

Miami Heat

  • Justise Winslow: Out (Back)

Now that we’re in January, the Toronto Raptors have achieved a feat of having 20 straight months with a winning record, which is currently the longest active streak in the entire National Basketball Association. With that being said, January could get off to a losing note against the Miami Heat, especially if a trend continues down at South Beach, and that’s the dominance of the Heat at the American Airlines Arena. At home this season, they’re tallied with a 15-1 record, which is the best in the league. For the Raptors, they have a winning tally on the road, but it’s certainly vulnerable at 9-6.

With the Miami Heat, they have strong motivation going into this game on Thursday night, and that’s because they were flat-out embarrassed by the Washington Wizards — a team who has only cracked 10 wins this season — in a blowout 123-105 loss on Monday. Miami would allow 42 points in the second quarter from the Wizards, which is a season-high for the Heat. 

“We got destroyed on both ends,” Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic stated. “Our defense was not even slightly there.”

What a better way for Miami to recover than getting a win against the No. 4 team in the East? The motivation will certainly be there.

The Miami Heat also come into tonight’s game completely healthy, other than their point forward Justise Winslow who will be out tonight because of a back injury. The Heat are led by Jimmy Butler in scoring (20.8 PPG), assists (6.6 APG) and steals (2.0 SPG), while being led in rebounds (10.6 RPG) and blocks (1.2 BPG) by their big man Bam Adebayo. Their rookie guards in Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro nearly average 30 points-per-game combined — Nunn averages 16.0 PPG, while Herro averages 13.7 PPG.

For Toronto, Siakim — last season’s NBA Most Improved Player — leads the team in scoring with an average of 25.1 points-per-game, while also sharing the top rebounding spot with 8.0 rebounds-per-game. The fact that Siakim is out, along with Powell (14.4 points-per-game) and Gasol (6.6 rebounds-per-game), is extraordinarily problematic against a very productive Miami Heat team.

To make up for some of the damage, the Raptors will be depending on Fred VanVleet (18.0 points-per-game) and Serge Ibaka (8.0 rebounds-per-game).

So, Who’s Going to Win?

Coming into tonight, the Toronto Raptors have went a .500 3-3 without Siakam, Gasol and Powell. Yeah, the Raps still have talent and are a lethal team without their stars, but it’s sure to do lethal damage against them squaring off against the likes of the Miami Heat. Plus, the trio of Siakam, Gasol and Powell is a lot better than that of Patrick McCaw, Chris Boucher and Terrance Davis, especially on the road — and did I already mention against the Miami Heat? A squad who has gone a dominant 15-1 at home this season?

Spread:

  • Toronto +5.5 (-105)
  • Miami -5.5 (-110)
Money line:

  • Toronto +195
  • Miami -225
Total Points:

  • Over 214 (-110)
  • Under 214 (-105)

The Heat have been absolutely lights out at the American Airlines Arena, and have scored wins over solid teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets, with their only loss being against the first place team in the Western Conference in the Los Angeles Lakers, and even that defeat was just by three points.

Not only is Miami a great team and one of the best in the entire NBA, never mind just the Eastern Conference, but the depth in their rotation is certainly going to challenge Toronto, especially with all of their injuries.

GAME FORECAST
According to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, the Miami Heat have a 58.3% chance of winning the game over the Toronto Raptors and their 41.7% figure.

With the circumstances being what they are and the game being in South Beach, you’ve got to ride with the Miami Heat in this one, though I would be hesitant to bet on them to cover the -5.5 spread — Toronto should keep it close. The same goes for the over/under, it’s a bit risky at 214.5, but I would go ahead and ride with the over due to the potency of both teams, but you could honestly lean in either direction — the same applies to Miami covering the spread, but again, the Raptors should keep it close.

BETTING PREDICTION: Miami Heat 112, Toronto Raptors 108

My Pick
MIAMI HEAT (-5.5)
Andrew Powell / Author

Andrew Powell has been working with The Sports Geek since November 2018 providing analysis and predictions in both the realms of sports and politics. Studying journalism through the University of Michigan, Powell's experience in sports includes tenures at mainstream newspapers The Williamsport Sun-Gazette and The Lock Haven Express, and he would also be affiliated with FOX Sports Radio 1340 AM in Hopewell, Virginia. In politics, it would include a stint with Mad World News and multiple with the Republican Party. From the Super Bowl to The Kentucky Derby to President Donald Trump's hair, Powell has you covered at The Sports Geek.