Healthier Heat prepare for visit from Raptors
The Toronto Raptors are playoff bound, while the Miami Heat are in a scramble to earn a postseason position in the Eastern Conference.
The visiting Raptors defeated New Orleans Pelicans 127-104 Friday night, bolstered by Kyle Lowry's triple-double, and will continue their pursuit of the No. 1 postseason seed in the East -- currently held by the Milwaukee Bucks -- when they visit the Heat on Sunday.
The Heat, meanwhile, also won Friday, 126-110 over Cleveland Cavaliers, to open a five-game homestand and maintain their grip on the eighth place and the final playoff spot in the East.
The Raptors (47-19) had lost two in a row before Friday.
The Heat (31-34) have won four in a row, and a win Sunday would match their season-best winning streak.
"We've been playing good basketball for a while," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, "We just weren't able to close out some of those close games. It's nice obviously to get the result."
The Heat have a full lineup after the return of players such as Dion Waiters (out the first half of the season after ankle surgery), Goran Dragic (out two months after knee surgery) and James Johnson (sprained shoulder).
"Obviously that's the ideal scenario," Spoelstra said. "That rarely happens in this league for anybody. But a lot of things are starting to come together right now."
Dragic, who had missed the previous three games with a strained left calf, had 11 points in nearly 16 minutes off the bench Friday.
"You see that he brings something off the dribble that we need," Spoelstra said.
"I still need to get my legs under me," Dragic said.
Kelly Olynyk scored 15 points Friday and made solid contributions defensively.
"His confidence has really grown," Spoelstra said. "I think the biggest thing right now is he's figured out a way, we've all tried to figure out a way, where he'd be effective defensively for us."
Lowry had 13 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists against the Pelicans for his 14th career triple-double. Kawhi Leonard scored 31 points, and the Raptors matched a season-best 12 blocked shots against a depleted roster that was without Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday.
Serge Ibaka had five of the Raptors' blocks and added 12 points and 11 rebounds.
One question facing the Raptors is whether Ibaka or Marc Gasol should be the starting center. Gasol started Friday for the fourth time in 10 games since his acquisition from the Memphis Grizzlies, finishing with four points and nine rebounds.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse said that he could decide on a regular starting center soon.
"I'm looking at it," Nurse said. "I will continue to evaluate the units playing together. Continue to evaluate how they are playing versus starting or coming off of the bench. Things like that.
"How are we executing late, what are we doing out of timeouts, how are we following the game plan to start? How's the bench unit coming along, are there any other combinations we can look at?"
"I don't know what Nick is planning to do," Gasol said. "I know whatever situation I'm in, I'm going to give it everything I have. I'm here to contribute, to help the team be a better team, and we are all part of the team and that's all that matters."
The Raptors have beaten the Heat in both meetings so far this season, once in Toronto in November and once in Miami in December.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 9, 2019