What a difference a week makes.
This time last week there was much lamentation about the plight of the Toronto Raptors losing a pair of heartbreakers to the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers in back-to-back contests both at the buzzer, bringing their record to a sad-sack 2-8.
Since then, however, the Raptors returned to their temporary home in Tampa and apparently took what was working in those losses out West and now haven’t lost a game since.
It’s just three games straight but based on how the team was trending before, it feels like these three wins have helped Toronto hit reset on its season and the mood around the club has completely changed as it better understands what it is.
They’ll now look to close out what has been a feel-good homestand with a back-to-back series against the Miami Heat beginning with a Wednesday affair at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sportsnet ONE.
Here’s a look at three things to watch for to get you ready for the game.
Keep the Heat on Miami
The Heat haven’t been much better than the Raptors record-wise and have the excuse of being in a constant battle with league-mandated COVID-19 health and safety protocols as a reason why.
Unfortunately for Miami, their handicap will continue as star forward Jimmy Butler and guard Avery Bradley will miss their fifth consecutive game as they're still under pandemic protocols. Additionally, making matters worse for Miami, reserve centre Meyers Leonard also didn’t make the trip to Tampa and breakout rookie from last post-season Tyler Herro is listed as “questionable” for Wednesday, according to the latest NBA injury report.
That’s a lot of guys out -- many being key players -- for the Heat, and the Raptors should take full advantage.
As far as we know, the Raptors will be fully stocked and ready to go and just like they did with the Dallas Mavericks on Monday night, they should pounce on this shorthanded Miami team.
What Toronto needs more than anything right now is wins and seeing the Heat without some of its best players looks like a good way to rack up those all-important W’s.
Can the Boucher train keep chugging?
Take a look at the line Chris Boucher has put up in his last six games: 20.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.2 blocks, 66.2 per cent from the field and 53.6 per cent from deep.
Those are obscene numbers for just about anybody, let alone a player coming off the bench like Boucher is and given the amount of confidence he’s been playing with as of late, there doesn’t seem to be anything slowing him down.
“I think Chris is doing a fabulous job for us on both ends -- blocking shots, playing with energy, his three is going down. So it’s definitely good for us and I’m proud of him with everything that he’s been able to do,” said Pascal Siakam of his blossoming teammate after Raptors practice on Tuesday. “And, again, I think this team -- the story and the history -- has always been about once you get opportunity you’re going to run with it and you’re gonna have chances, and I think that’s what he’s doing right now.
“He’s playing very well every single night putting up double-doubles and 20-plus points, he’s doing it all and I’m proud of him. I just want him to keep going and not to have anything in your mind. Just go out there and play basketball and continue to have that energy that he brings on the floor on both ends and I think he’ll be alright.”
Boucher will be in for one of the toughest matchups he’s had since he’s started this tear he’s been on, likely seeing a lot of Bam Adebayo, but with the way he’s shooting the ball there’s a chance he could stretch the Heat All-Star big man out enough away from the basket enough to limit his impact as a rim protector.
Freddy bounce back?
Fred VanVleet has arguably been the Raptors’ most consistent, best player this season, but he had an off game on Monday night versus the Mavericks, scoring six points on a poor 2-for-10 shooting (1-for-6 from three-point range).
As he’s often apt to do, VanVleet still managed to impact the game in other ways besides scoring, dropping six dimes and coming away with four steals, but there’s little doubting his importance to the Raptors as an important shot-maker and scorer.
We’ll see if VanVleet can bounce back against what likely will be a depleted Miami backcourt on Wednesday.