The Toronto Raptors hold a 2-1 lead heading into game 4 of their playoff series with the Miami Heat, but things will probably be very different from now on.
Besides Wade becoming public enemy number one for Raptors fans after still going with his shooting practice during the Canadian anthem, the big news since the previous game which the Raptors won 95-91 was the injuries to both Jonas Valanciunas (ankle) and Hassan Whiteside (MCL sprain). Valanciunas won’t play again in this series. It’s a bit more foggy when it comes to Whiteside, who is listed as a day-to-day, but it might be a bit more serious than that.
Both teams rely on their backcourt to provide points and the usual push. These injuries put even more pressure on Dwyane Wade (26.3 points per game in this series, 38 in the previous game), Goran Dragic (19.3 points in this series), DeMar DeRozan (20.3 points in this series) and Kyle Lowry (19.3 points in this series, 33 in the previous game), which probably means the Heat are less hurt by the omission of their big man.
And it makes sense. While the Raptors have been inconsistent his postseason with how they’ve been able to utilize Valanciunas, he has been the dominant player in the paint, even with Whiteside on the floor. The absence means we might see Patrick Patterson playing some center in a very small ball kind of look, and more minutes for Bismack Biyombo, which hurts the Raptors offensively. For Miami, Amare Stoudemire and Udonis Haslem will get more minutes, but like the Raptors, this mostly calls for some creative ideas by Erik Spoelstra.
The most important number concerning these two? The Raptors are +41 through the first three games with Valanciunas on the floor, and -39 when he isn’t playing. This is excellent news for Miami, but it seems both Lowry and DeRozan, shooting terribly in this series, are welcoming this kind of added responsibility. It’s not going to change their game by much. Only eliminate the option of dumping the ball in the paint, and give them more opportunities to play their inefficient brand of basketball.
For the Raptors to overcome Valanciunas missing, it means Norman Powell, Terrence Ross and Patterson have to start playing a bigger part in the team’s offense, if Lowry is willing to involve them a bit more. In Miami, you can say the same for Luol Deng and Joe Johnson, but another worrying sign is the amount of minutes some of these players are getting: The Heat, missing both Chris Bosh and Whiteside, aren’t built to have Deng, Wade, Dragic and Johnson spend 40 minutes or around that each night on the floor.
The Heat seem like the likelier team to take game 4, and it’s good for us to see a series going the distance (while the Raptors probably don’t want another game 7). However, if Lowry has really been able to shake off whatever it is that’s been bothering him until the previous game, the Raptors may have the answer they’ve been looking for ever since of Valanciunas’ availability became known.