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Miami Heat's playoff hopes ride on two players

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Only a blowout win by the Miami Heat against the Toronto Raptors would make Miami serious playoff contenders this year.

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Cavaliers setting a record 25 3-point made baskets changed the entire outlook of the 2016 postseason. Oddsshark.com now lists them as a legitimate threat to the Golden State Warriors. The Miami Heat have risen to a top-five contender for the NBA title.

Tonight's game versus the Raptors will be crucial test in giving the Heat respectability in the race to the top. Wins at home are the easy path, but a second victory on the road in this series would make the Heat a tough out anywhere. Especially since Miami will not have home court advantage versus Cleveland or possibly in the NBA Finals should they advance.

The Cavaliers rout puts two Heat players in the spotlight: Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow.

25 3-point baskets undermines the importance of a shot-blocking center in the NBA. Hassan will need to up his game in other ways to affect the outcome, besides waiting to block shots in the paint. LeBron James was telling the Heat: Whiteside won't be factor should they meet.

Even Larry Bird said in the wake of Frank Vogel's dismissal, "I like the small ball... I think over a period of time it would have worked a lot better." Hassan's 70% first-round shooting could overcome 50% shooting from beyond the break, but Whiteside needs a monster breakout performance versus the Raptors to prove he can be a difference-maker in the playoffs, whether injured or not.

Tyler Johnson may soon oust Winslow in the rotation unless he puts points on the board. The Cavaliers and Warriors are out to prove that points can be scored from anywhere and by anyone. Tyler has that capability and Erik Spoelstra has used Gerald Green first off the bench because of his scoring punch. Winslow can attack the rim like Goran Dragic, but hasn't done it much so far. Unless Winslow augments his defensive prowess, he may lose his favored status.

Tonight's game in Toronto will determine if the Heat are for real. The predicted score of 94-95 spells trouble for Miami's chances in the playoffs. The play of Whiteside and Winslow could determine how far the Heat go in postseason action. Defense WAS yesterday's winning formula, but in 2016 the importance putting the ball in the basket can't be ignored.