Heat and the Raptors set to clash Lakers and Jazz face off for the third time
The bubble has been absolutely excellent so far. With the scheduling and intensity behind every game, it feels like the NBA is in a perpetual state of March Madness. Every game counts and there always seems to be basketball on the television. The National Basketball Association is clearly the best run professional sports league in the United States.
There are six games on the NBA docket today. I will be covering just two of them. First, the Raptors and Heat go head-to-head in a game that will have major implications on playoff seeding in the East. Later on in the evening, the Lakers take on the Utah Jazz.
Toronto Raptors (-3.5) vs. Miami Heat (+3.5) at 1:30 PM EST
Our first game of the day features two of the most evenly matched teams in the Eastern Conference. On one side, you have the Toronto Raptors, who are looking for their second straight win in the bubble. Meanwhile, the Miami Heat are hoping to build on their first win against the Nuggets. This will surely be an excellent matchup.
These teams have several similarities, but that didn’t stop Miami from winning the first two games of the season series against Toronto. The Heat were able to beat the Raptors 121-110 in the first game they played against each other this season. The second time these teams faced off was a much more defensive battle. The Heat would limit the Raptors to just 76 points for an 84-76 victory. I expect tonight’s game to have a different outcome.
I think this is going to be one of those games where coaching plays a huge role in who comes out victorious. Erik Spoelstra has proven time and time again that he is an excellent leader. Spoelstra famously led Miami to back-to-back NBA Titles during the Heat’s big-three era with D-Wade, LeBron, and Chris Bosh. He has been able to have success beyond that four-year stretch too, leading the Heat to the playoffs in 2016, 2018, and this year. Erik Spoelstra has earned our respect as a head coach in the NBA.
With that being said, I still believe Nick Nurse is a better coach than Spoelstra. Toronto’s head coach was just recently named a Finalist for the Coach of the Year award, and he definitely seems deserving. Nurse was able to lead the Raptors to their first NBA Championship last season. Following that victory, the team’s best player decided to leave the franchise to go play basketball for the Clippers. So how did Nick Nurse respond? By leading Toronto to a 47-18 record, giving the Raptors a higher winning percentage than last year. Do you get what I am saying? Nick Nurse lost the team’s best player and led the Raptors to a better record this year than last year. I could heap praise on to Nick Nurse all day long. I think he has a slight advantage in the coaching department.
The numbers indicate that this will be a close game. The Heat average 112.3 points per game while the Raps average 112.9. Also, both these teams have tremendous defenses. Toronto is the best defensive team in the NBA while Miami is ranked 11th. The Raptors have an edge in rebounds per game, but the Heat come into this with an advantage in the assists category. These teams are so evenly matched that I think the deciding factor in this game will come down to a few key individuals.
The complexion of these teams is incredibly similar. Both franchises are coached by an excellent leader that knows how to win Championships. Furthermore, both teams are fueled by the production that comes from their three-headed monster. The Heat are led by Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Kendrick Nunn. Meanwhile, the Raptors have been able to replicate their success from last year with Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, and Fred VanVleet.
When all is said and done, I think the Raptors have a little more talent than the Heat, which will probably lead them to the win. I really like Butler and Adebayo, but my confidence in this team goes down tremendously once you get past those guys. On the other hand, the Raptors have proven that they can beat anybody in the league (regardless of talent) and look to have a hot hand right now. Miami covers the spread, but Toronto still wins.
Raptors 100 – Heat 97
Los Angeles Lakers (-6.5) vs. Utah Jazz (+6.5) at 9:00 PM EST
The other game of the day we will be previewing pits two of the top teams in the Western Conference against one another. However, both teams will be coming into tonight’s game motivated after suffering tough losses over the weekend. The Lakers were beaten by the Raptors 107-92 on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Thunder were able to beat the Jazz two days ago by a final score of 110-94. Thankfully, one of these teams will be able to break their skid with a victory tonight.
These teams are no strangers to one another. Prior to the NBA pause, these squads faced off twice in the 2019-20 season, and the Lakers managed to win both games. The first victory came back in October when LA beat Utah 95-86 thanks to 53 combined points from LeBron and Anthony Davis. The second time these teams faced off, the game was an even bigger blowout. LA ended up putting the hurt on Utah 121-96. The Lakers have had more talent than the Jazz all year long. This fact will be proven tonight when LA beats Utah for the third time this year.
The Utah Jazz are an enigma. As things stand right now, Utah is the fifth-seeded team in the Western Conference and has the ninth-best overall record in the NBA. However, Utah has had struggles against good teams in recent outings. The Jazz did beat the Pelicans, but that victory was sandwiched between two rough losses to two of the better teams in the NBA, the Raptors and Thunder. I worry the Jazz will not have enough gas in the tank ton upset the Lakers.
I think the Utah Jazz are a playoff-caliber team. I am not willing to say they are a Championship team though. Their star players don’t wow me in clutch moments, and the Jazz have not made deep postseason runs over the last couple of years. Utah will give the Lakers fits, but I still think LA comes out of this one victorious.
Both squads have been relying on defense to get the job done in the bubble. The Lakers and Jazz have limited opponents to about 100 points per game while also averaging around 100 points per game on offense. At the end of the day, I just trust the Lakers more to find the bottom of the basket when they shoot the ball. With a field goal percentage of 48.1%, the Lakers are the most accurate shooting team in the NBA. I also believe that LeBron, AD, and the rest of LA’s big men will be too much for Utah to handle. The Jazz cover the point spread, but the Lakers hold on for the eventual win.