NBA Round Two Playoffs Preview: Toronto vs. Miami

dragic.jpg.size.custom.crop.824x650Injuries will be the main topic of conversation when Game 4 of the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat takes place in the Sunshine state. Miami will be without Hassan Whiteside and Toronto’s major injury is to Jonas Valanciunas, both players will not square off in this Eastern Conference semifinal series.

And as the importance of the games get greater, the lineups will become smaller. It will reduce Monday’s Game 4 of the best-of-seven series to a fight that is won in skirmishes. Toronto is leading the series 2-1 and will look to take a strangle hold tomorrow night. They are confident and feel like this series is winnable.

“We can play faster, play with some more pace (and) cause some confusion versus their (defensive) switches . . . that’s something we can do,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “The good outweighs the bad for us.”

For Miami, Whiteside is out day-to-day since he sprained his medial collateral ligament on his right knee. Similarly, Valanciunas could miss the rest of the series due to his sprained right ankle. They are both starting centers, and both got injured in Game 3 of the series that took place Saturday night. Coincidentally, both got the news about their immediate futures in MRI exams that were done on Sunday.

“Hassan was thrilled with the news,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Neither one of us slept much last night.” So while Miami listed Whiteside as questionable for Monday’s Game 4, Toronto announced Valanciunas would miss the rest of the series, without any firmer timetable on his return is the Raptors are able to advance.

“Big, big, big, big, big blow for us,” Said Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri. “Big blow for JV. …But you know what? This is the life in the NBA and we carry on.”

Neither coach, Casey nor Miami’s Erik Spoelstra would give up his hand about what the lineups will look like on Monday night, especially without their starting centres. Many think that Toronto will insert backup Bismack Biyombo into Valanciunas’s place, and sports experts are guessing that Miami will counter with either Udonis Haslem or Amar’e Stoudemire.

Whatever happens though, the whole change up will set up some unique lineups. Every major team is suffering from some downside, for instance, Whiteside’s injury is very similar to that of Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry. In general, the recovery for a mild MCL sprain can take a couple of weeks. There are examples where players got back to playing within a day or two and for others who weren’t as lucky, it dragged on for several weeks. The actual severity of Whiteside’s injury is not reported, but Curry’s was a Grade 1 sprain, which is known as a slight sprain.

“It’s not always about who’s the best team. It’s always about who’s the healthiest team,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “That being said, there’s nothing you can do. … It’ll be a different game for us with Hassan out, but we have to figure out a game that’s successful for us.”

If Whiteside can’t play tomorrow night then that means the Heat have 14 feet of key players that are out on injury. All-Star forward Chris Bosh hasn’t played since he was diagnosed with another blood clot in February, and it was formally announced last week that his season is over. Whiteside led the NBA in blocked shots this season, averaging 3.7. He was third in voting for best defensive player of the year. He averaged 14.2 points and 11.8 rebounds in the regular season on 61 percent shooting, then 12 points and 10.9 rebounds in the playoffs on 68 percent shooting.

If he can’t play, that probably means a lot more minutes for Heat veteran Udonis Haslem. “Whatever it takes, man,” Haslem said to local media pregame. “This is why I keep myself in shape, so I can be ready.”

Valanciunas was injured in the third quarter of Toronto’s win in Game 3. He’s been averageing 15 points and 12.1 rebounds in the playoffs and had a double-double in all three games against the Heat. Toronto was able to outscor Miami by 41 points when Valanciunas was on the floor in the first three games. So him missing will be a significant loss to the Raps, since the Heat outscored them by 39 points when he wasn’t on the court.

“He’s been playing so well,” Lowry said. “His confidence was sky-high. But for us as a team, it’s next man up.”

Miami’s Dwyane Wade refused to believe Valanciunas won’t play. “We’re not focusing on him being out for the series,” he said…I’ve played series where guys have been out for the series and they come back in the lineup a day later. So we’re not going to focus on that. When the card is given in, we’ll focus on whoever our matchup is.”

So Wade will be ready, but so will Lowry. He knows the pace of the game will change and it’s up to the better team to take advantage of the space that will be freed up due to the injuries.

He told local media, “There’ll be a lot of space out there and you’ve got shooters out there. We’ll see . . . I think things will be like it was (Saturday) night, a lot of space, a lot of up and down with pick-and-rolls with the so-called centre in the game.”

Our Pick: Raptors over Heat, 104-93