Win the North: Game-By-Game Predictions for Heat VS. Raptors
After a pretty uneventful first round of the 2016 NBA Playoffs, round two is officially underway. This should provide many more intense battles between some of the greatest basketball players in the world. Round one was relatively unmemorable, with only two out of eight total series reaching the most anticipated and desired duel in all of sports: Game Seven. In my opinion, the best time of the year is from the start of the second round until the end of the NBA Finals, so I could not be more excited to see how the next month and a half plays out for all of the teams that still remain.
Who has the Advantage?
The battle that is about to take place between Miami and Toronto is very tough to predict. The Heat and Raptors both have very glaring similarities and differences that have made them successful all year. They both have very dominant defenses, that will lead to numerous low scoring games in which neither team will reach the century mark.
Toronto is a very good three-point shooting team (37.0% for the season which is 4th in the league), so I expect that to play a factor in at least three to four games during this series. While Toronto’s three-point shooting is superb, the rest of their offense is stagnant and ugly to watch when the three-ball isn’t falling. Miami has arguably had one of the worst offenses in the league all year, so the combination of great defense and unpredictable scoring will lead to major offensive droughts for each aspiring squad.
Toronto was able to dominate the season series against Miami by winning three out of four games and outscoring their opponent by 22 points. The three wins by Toronto were essentially all blowouts; the scoring margins were 14, 20, and 8, respectively. Miami did win the first meeting between the two teams by 20 points, but the Heat roster and contributing members are entirely different now.
Fortunately, the playoffs provide every team with a new slate. Regardless of what happened in the regular season, each series starts off at 0-0. This is very beneficial for Miami because the regular season indicates that Miami isn’t relatively close to the same level as Toronto. I think the regular season outcomes will not factor into this series at all. This highly anticipated battle will reach seven games, something each team has already been tasked with facing in this year’s playoffs.
Please don’t hold me to any of these predictions because predicting the outcome of the series is hard enough, let alone the result of each individual game. I was able to predict that Miami would win in seven games against Charlotte and that each team would win one on the road and the rest at home, which is exactly what happened. I’m hoping to keep this hot streak alive, so let’s get to it:
Game One will be all defense. Toronto will be too giddy because they have finally made it out of the first round, but Miami will be rattled by the hostile environment created by the Air Canada Centre. Both teams will falter away opportunities to take control of the game, and it will stay within 10 points for a majority of the contest.
I actually don’t think home court advantage will play a huge factor in this series, which is something that cannot be said much in the NBA Playoffs. I believe this because of both team’s ability to win away from home. Miami has a group of veteran guys that have won in many incredibly challenging environments. This was seen in the first round when Miami had to win an elimination game on the road in Charlotte.
Toronto went 27-14 on the road this season, which is tied for the third best mark in the league only behind Golden State and San Antonio. Obviously, being a part of the playoffs poses a different environment and importance for each individual game, but both teams have proved time and time again that they can win away from their home city.
I genuinely expect Miami to take Game One. Toronto looked vulnerable at home against Indiana in the first round, and Miami’s veterans know how important it is to steal a game on the road. Miami will take a 1-0 lead heading into Game Two.
This is when I expect Toronto to roll over Miami by double digits. They will find their stroke offensively by draining 10+ three-pointers. The Raptors know they cannot go down 0-2 heading back to South Beach, so Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, Toronto’s all-star backcourt, will dominate Dwyane Wade and Co. Toronto is very capable of taking over a game with three-point shooting and defense, which will be on full display in Game Two.
This is the first game of the series that is played in Miami. The Heat will use it to their advantage and find their own shooting stroke during this contest. Miami has had a very difficult time staying consistent on offense throughout the playoffs thus far. They shot absolutely atrociously in the three games they lost against Charlotte. Their offense is essential to their success, so with the loud atmosphere of American Airlines Arena, expect Miami’s confidence to be high and offensive abilities to be dominating in Game Three.
Game Four is the most important game in the series at this point. A 3-1 Miami lead is somewhat insurmountable in the NBA Playoffs, but a 2-2 tie heading back to Toronto shifts the entire momentum of the series. Both teams know that even though this is not an elimination game, it is still very, very important to come out with a victory. I personally think that Toronto is going to steal this game. Both offenses will struggle mightily throughout the contest, and the outcome will likely be determined in the final two minutes of action.
This game is so crucial for both squads considering 85% of teams that win Game Five go on to win the series. Regardless of this statistic, I have a gut feeling this series is going to go seven games. In this game on the road, Miami’s shooting woes will be fully exposed and Toronto will thrive playing north of the border on its home floor. DeRozan will carry the load offensively for the Raptors, which has been pretty typical all season. I expect another Raptor to step up (Kyle Lowry or Jonas Valančiūnas specifically) and make some big plays on the offensive end. Toronto will ultimately take advantage of their home court and pull out Game Five, giving them a 3-2 advantage.
This is a must win for Miami, which they faced twice in the first round. They had to win Game Six in Charlotte, which is why I don’t think they’ll have an issue winning this game in South Beach. The Heat has one of the most dedicated and rowdiest fan bases in all of basketball, so this noise and pressure will phase this relatively inexperienced Raptors squad. Toronto got blown out by 18 points during Game Six in Indiana, and playing in Miami won’t be any easier at all. I’ve said from the start that this series is going seven games, which is why Miami will route the Raptors for an easy Game Six victory.
Game Seven in the NBA is undoubtedly my favorite experience in all of sports. The atmosphere is never better than a Game Seven in basketball, and both teams know exactly what’s at stake. A Game Seven in the NBA means that the previous six games have all been an all-out intense battle. It’s very difficult and rare to upset a team in a seven-game series because the better team usually finds a way to get the job done and move on. Also, in my opinion, having home court in the NBA is the biggest possible advantage in all of sports. Only the true superstars can shut out the atmosphere of a wild road NBA crowd and will their team to victory.
With all of that said, I think Miami will win on the road and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Miami has too many veterans and is too experienced to let this opportunity slip away. How can Dwyane Wade and the rest of the Heat roster not capitalize on the potential opportunity to face LeBron in the conference finals? It’s literally the perfect possible scenario for Miami. Toronto almost handed Indiana the series by allowing them to go on a 17-4 run and cut the lead to three with 52 seconds remaining in Game Seven. Toronto’s aid from the referees allowed them to hold onto this lead and ultimately take the series, but it won’t be this easy against the Heat. Miami will take advantage of Toronto’s inability to close out games and steal Game Seven in “The 6”.
This series will go six or seven games, with the latter expected in my opinion. The talent level on both teams is pretty similar, which is why I think it will come down to experience and the will to win. The Heat has shown this desire to win numerous times in the past, while the Raptors seem to struggle in high-pressure situations. As the regular season indicated, the Raptors could come and blow the Heat out of the water, but I don’t expect the Miami veterans to let that happen. It’s tough to gauge who will reign supreme when the series is said and done, but my money is on Miami.