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Conference Semifinals Game 1 Preview: Heat visit Toronto as underdogs in their first-ever playoff meeting

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The Heat-Raptors game pit teams coming off exhausting Game 7 victories in totally different types of wins.

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Losing home court advantage for the remainder of the playoffs, the Miami Heat must win at least one road game against the Toronto Raptors in hopes of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. If the Heat do win one of the first two games in Toronto, then the series becomes a best-of-five, with Miami having the home court edge. A computer-generated model has the teams ending regulation play in a tie, with a thrilling overtime to follow.

Miami came off a crushing 106-73 win over the Charlotte Hornets, while the Raptors won a hard-fought battle at home over the Indiana Pacers. The Heat did not know their Game 1 opponent until Sunday's Raptors-Pacers night game was over at 10:30 pm. Even though the Raptors were able to stay home for tonight's game, Miami's 1 pm start on Sunday gave them most of the day off to recover, while Toronto had Monday as their only full day off from game conditions. The extra 7 hours off for the Heat could make a slight difference.

X-factor

Kyle Lowry's on-again, off-again elbow issue may give Toronto problems. Per Josh Lewenberg via Raptors HQ, "Not too concerned about Lowry's elbow. He says he's been dealing w/it since London game in Jan. Slumps happen, wouldnt read too much into it." Fansided observed, "Since sitting on March 23, Lowry has struggled to score at the quality and quantity levels that made him a starter on the East All-Star team."

A sub-par Lowry allows the Heat to focus on stopping DeMar DeRozan as the primary scorer, much as they did in the first round with Kemba Walker. Jonas Valanciunas presents a different obstacle than Al Jefferson for Hassan Whiteside to overcome, but coach Erik Spoelstra and his staff have plans to deal with the Lithuanian big man.

Long-time Heat nemesis Luis Scola and veteran Jason Thompson come off the bench as clutch players in the playoffs. Besides them the Heat will see Bismack Biyombo, Terrence Ross, Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson as capable players in the rotation to be wary of. Incidentally Dorell Wright might even face his younger brother Delon Wright at some during the game.

As Heat fans know, Dragic and Whiteside performed brilliantly in Game 7, and in general, Miami exceeded expectations for a 48-win team so far in the playoffs. The major factor for this success lies on Erik Spoelstra's coaching acumen. He has consistently been able to surprise opponents with slight twists in his game plan to produce winning results.

Double-teaming Jefferson in the post to keep Whiteside out of foul trouble is one example. Hounding an exhausted Kemba Walker, effectively limiting the Hornets offensive firepower, is another. Knowing Toronto has played a grueling 89 games on the shoulders of their guards is an exploitable advantage coach Spoelstra has in this series.

More than sheer talent alone, which Toronto does not lack, the Heat have the youthful energy of Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson coming off the bench to wear down other teams. Spoelstra can also bring in lightly-used Gerald Green and Josh McRoberts to run around the court, hoping the key Raptors players lose their energy as the game wears on. The last overtime loss to Raptors was a lesson on how to lose a game, that cannot be repeated this time around.

The Raptors won 3 of 4 games this season and have the home-court edge, if the series goes to seven games. The Heat are counting on players such as Dwyane Wade, who lives for the second season, to overcome those disappointing regular season results. Tonight's game presents an opportunity to give the Miami Heat home-court advantage if they win as our Dragon slays their Raptors.


Photo credit: Asur Ilustrations

Probable Starters

Miami

  • Luol Deng
  • Joe Johnson
  • Hassan Whiteside
  • Dwyane Wade
  • Goran Dragic

Toronto

  • DeMarre Carroll
  • Norman Powell
  • Jonas Valanciunas
  • DeMar DeRozan
  • Kyle Lowry

TV & Broadcast info

  • Time: 8 pm ET
  • Location: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Canada
  • National TV: TNT
  • Local TV: None
  • Radio: WFNZ 610, 790 The Ticket
  • Internet: Heat.com one-hour pregame show and post-game show