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Lewenberg: Raptors host two-time champion Heat on TSN2

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Josh Lewenberg
11/5/2013 2:01:33 PM
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TORONTO - The Raptors (2-1) face their toughest test of the young season Tuesday when the defending champion Miami Heat (2-2) visit the Air Canada Centre, still looking for their first road win.

You can catch the action live at 7pm et/4pm pt on TSN2 and on TSN Radio 1050 Toronto.

After splitting a back-to-back set on the road this weekend, the Raptors return home hoping to steal a win from a team that's had their number since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joined forced in 2010.

Miami has outscored Toronto by an average of 13.3 in 10 meetings - all wins - since their talented trio came together. The Heat have won 11 straight in the series overall, Toronto's longest active losing streak against any opponent.

"They're champions twice for a reason," Dwane Casey said of the Heat after shoot around Tuesday morning. "This is an opportunity for us to come in and see what we're made of against the two-time champions in our house. We're not going to out-talent them but they're not going to outwork us, that's the mentality we've got to have.

"The Heat bounced back after suffered consecutive loses, their first two road games of the season, with a decisive 103-93 home win over the Wizards on Sunday. Their Big Three combined for 69 points, each of them scoring 20 or more, and shot 61 per cent from the field.

"What we have to this year is the same thing we last year, we have to reinvent ourselves," said veteran forward Shane Battier. "We can't assume that what worked last year is going to work this year. That's the fun part of the journey."

The defending champs will be a man down Tuesday with Bosh back home following the Monday morning birth of his second child, a daughter, Dylan Skye.

Click here to listen as Josh Lewenberg and Duane Watson preview the Raptors' match-up with the Heat and look back at the first week of the season in TSN 1050's Raptors Report podcast.

Despite shooting just 40 per cent, the Raptors came away with a much-needed 97-90 victory in Milwaukee on Saturday, thanks in large part to their improved defensive approach from the night before - a disappointing loss in Atlanta - and a dominant performance on the boards.

"They've improved this offseason and part of it is just having a young team together, the core players and you add another year," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Raptors. "They're extremely athletic, they're long [and] they have size at all the positions."

Trends and Tidbits

Although the Raptors have made a concerted effort to get Jonas Valanciunas involved early in the first three games, he has not had a major impact after the opening period. The sophomore centre, who's played fewer than 18 minutes in each of the last two games, has not been on the floor much down the stretch, as Casey still feels more comfortable with Amir Johnson anchoring the small lineup he's been using. Per NBA.com, Valanciunas has attempted 14 shots in 25 first-quarter minutes but has taken just seven in 40 minutes after the opening frame. The Raptors' most efficient offensive spurts (106.1 points per 100 possessions) have come when playing in their small lineup, according to NBA.com.

The last time Toronto was two games over .500 was Jan. 27, 2010 following a 111-103 win over Miami. Chris Bosh had 24 points and 18 rebounds for the Raptors in that game, months before leaving to join the Heat as a free agent.

Miami has trailed by at least seven in the opening minutes in each of their first four games; Chicago led 9-2 in the opener, Philadelphia had a 19-0 advantage early, Brooklyn had an 11-3 lead and Washington was up 9-2 early.

James' double-digit scoring streak has reached 499 straight regular-season games, dating back to January of 2007. His teams - the Heat and Cavaliers - hold a 363-136 record in those contests. "We don't want to put a ceiling on him," Spoelstra said of the four-time MVP. "And even at the level he played last year hopefully he can reinvent himself and take us to a different level."

What to Watch For

Disrupting Miami's rhythm

Now four years into the Big Three era, the Heat have become a well-oiled machine on both ends of the floor, specially offensively where they move the ball as well as any team in the NBA.

Their pristine spacing and ball movement was on display in Sunday's victory over Washington, registering 32 assists on 37 made field goals. The Heat are 54-3 when collecting at least 25 assists since the start of the 2010-11 season. In order for the Raptors to have a fighting chance against a far more experienced and superior offence, they'll have to take Miami out of its comfort zone - easier said than done - or catch them on a rare off day.

Keeping them inside the arch

Three-point shooting continues to be a big part of what makes the Heat so dangerous, aided by their excellent ball movement. Miami shot 11-for-27 from three-point range on Sunday and the Raptors hope to force them to settle for long twos in Toronto.

"You can't take away everything from them," Casey cautioned. "When you try to take away everything, you take away nothing. One thing we do want to do is make them take tough twos [and] try to limit the number of threes they get. They have to have the three to be successful so we want to run them off the three-point line."

After adding Ray Allen a year ago, the Heat finished the 2012-13 season shooting 40 per cent from long range, good for the second best mark in the league.

Control the boards

Unexpectedly the Raptors strength through three games has been on the boards, where they struggled through most of the preseason. They haven't just been impressive rebounding the basketball, they've been dominant, which could present a problem for a small Heat team if it carries over into Tuesday's game.

The Raptors have out-rebounded opponents 150-108 through three games, including a 47-20 advantage on the offensive glass, a category in which they lead the league early in the campaign. Nearly a quarter of Toronto's points (22.5 per cent) have come off second-chance opportunities.

Miami was last in the league on the boards a year ago and will be without their leading rebounder with Bosh unavailable Tuesday.

Who to Watch For

Rudy Gay

The Raptors' forward has struggled with shot selection and offensive efficiency early in the season, shooting just 33 per cent from the field and leading the team in turnovers. Coming off one of his worst games as a Raptor in Friday's loss to Atlanta, Gay had a better night in Milwaukee 24 hours later. Despite another rough evening in the shooting department (4-of-14 from the field) and some careless ball handling down the stretch, Gay contributed in other areas, grabbing a career-high 15 rebounds, getting to the line 10 times and playing inspired defence.

Gay will be counted on as both a scorer and a defender in Tuesday's match-up against James. Gay always relishes the opportunity to face the league's premier players at his position and has played the reigning MVP competitively in the past.

Offensively, Gay also rose to the occasion against the Heat last season, averaging 25.7 points on 48 per cent shooting in three games. "Rudy is a scorer," Battier said of his former Grizzlies teammate. "Any given night he's capable of putting big numbers on the board. I think he's settled a little more now [in Toronto]."

Dwyane Wade

On the wrong side of 30 and having battled a series of knee injuries over the last couple years, Wade has been forced to adapt and change his game.

"He used to be pretty reckless, attacking the rim with reckless abandon," Battier said of the 31-year-old Wade. "When you get over 30 you can't do that as much, you need to pick your spots."

Even without his trademark explosiveness, Wade is still an elite player at his position and always seems to have big nights against the Raptors.

Coming off the most efficient season of his 11-year career, shooting 52 per cent, Wade has averaged 28.0 points on 62 per cent from the field in the last seven meetings with Toronto.

He's smarter," said Casey. "He lets the game come to him. He's a very wise veteran. People don't even talk about [him], everyone talks about LeBron but he's the wise old owl sitting back and waiting for you to make a mistake."

Injury Report

Steve Novak, who has been inactive over the last two games battling a sore back, could be available for Tuesday's game. Casey said he's doing better and the team will decide on his status prior to the game.

Bosh will miss Tuesday's game against his former team, still with his wife after the birth of their daughter and Greg Oden will continue to be inactive for Miami rehabbing back from his knee injury.

Jonas Valanciunas (Photo: Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images)
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