In preparation for Miami’s Thursday matchup against the Toronto Raptors, I had a chance to catch up with Blake Murphy, of Toronto HQ fame. We shot a few questions back-and-forth, and his answers to my question are below.
Kevin (HHH): Miami operates under the credo, "Next man up." Who's been stepping up in place of Kyle Lowry, and what is his projected return date?
BM (THQ): We still don't have a firm date for Lowry. He underwent surgery on Feb. 28, and the team has only said that the hope is that he can return by the postseason. Woj reported that there was optimism that he could be back in four-to-five weeks, which would make sometime next week the target. Personally, I've been holding out hope we can return by April 2, which would let him get a few games in while sitting back-to-backs.
As for next man up, that's mostly been Cory Joseph, who spent the bulk of the time before the All-Star break under-performing. The move to starting has mostly agreed with him, and while he's still curiously had off nights on the defensive end, he's been much better than before Lowry went down. The numbers show as much: He's basically inherited Lowry's extreme on/off splits. Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet have tried to fill in backup minutes, and each is an intriguing prospect, but they've been as inconsistent as you'd expect with very inexperienced guards.
HHH: Fred VanVleet, in limited time, has matched Lowry's team-leading .417 three point success rate. What is the rationale for playing him only eight minutes per night?
THQ: He's behind Wright in the rotation, really. The Raptors will dabble with multi-guard looks, and VanVleet's seen time as a third point guard more often than the Raptors used a third point guard before. He has also gotten the nod in Wright's place in the second half of two of the last three games, including a big comeback win against Chicago on Tuesday. Wright is probably a better all-around player right now, and Dwane Casey's been giving him first crack. VanVleet's shooting is legitimate, though, small sample size be damned - he's likely the team's third-best long-range shooter overall. But, yeah, he's a rookie and the third (normally fourth) guard on the depth chart, so consider his playing time fluid.
HHH: It seems I'm spending all my questions on the point guard position, so what's one more? Toronto is last in the NBA with 18.2 dimes per game. At first blush, that doesn't seem to be tracking to get any better, with Lowry out. Would you say the Raptors are over reliant on isolation and hero ball? What's the key to breaking that habit?
THQ: The iso-heavy reputation really isn't as warranted as some fans make it seem - the Raptors are sixth in the NBA with 8.7 percent of their plays coming on isolations. But it is absolutely true that the bulk of their offense is designed to get Lowry and DeMar DeRozan in a position to attack a mismatch. It's a lot of switch-baiting, or getting the defense rotating so they can attack down-hill. DeRozan is also a great post scorer, and post-ups slow things down further. They could probably be better whipping the ball around and sharing the touches, but the roster and offensive system have been built around DeRozan and Lowry and what they do well...changing too much might wind up cutting the nose off to spite the face.
GameTime: 7:30 PM EST, AmericanAirlines Arena
Odds: Miami is currently tracking at a 52.8% chance of victory, according to numberFire.com, with projected Five Stars of Demar DeRozan,
Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, Serge Ibaka, Tyler Johnson, and James Johnson.
History: Miami is 50-27 all-time against the Raptors, and their .649 winning percentage is their third best against an NBA franchise.
Playoff Track: Miami is currently tracking a 65.1% chance at locking down a postseason berth, while Toronto is all but clinched, and is tracking nearly 100%.
PG - Goran Dragic
SG - Rodney McGruder
SF - Josh Richardson
PF - Luke Babbitt
C - Hassan Whiteside (GTD)
PG - Cory Joseph
SG - DeMar DeRozan
SF - DeMarre Carroll
PF - Patrick Patterson
C - Jonas Valanciunas
Head over to Toronto HQ to get my answers to Blake’s questions, and don’t forget to check the preview, the game thread, our recap, the five stars, and all breaking Heat news on Hot Hot Hoops.