There has been a lot of noise coming from south of the Canadian border about how much certain sports organizations expect or would like to see a Cavaliers versus Heat Eastern Conference Final, but after the Raptors took back home court advantage in Miami on Saturday night, the odds have swung heavily in favor of a Toronto-Cleveland series.
Like it or hate it, ESPN’s Basketball Power index is at the very least objective and it puts the Raptors as 3:1 favorites to advance.
The ESPN Basket Power Index is meant to predict a team’s future performance using the recent past and known future. It doesn’t account for things like Heat center Hassan Whiteside twisting a knee a possibly missing the rest of the postseason or Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas turning an ankle and not being available either.
“Right now we don’t know about Hassan who is a big part of what we do, but that doesn’t mean anything, we still have a series to play and Toronto, they don’t care, no one cares,” Dwyane Wade said after Game Three.
Wade is right. No one cares if a team is hindered by injuries to key players in the playoffs. You figure it out or your season ends and this series is about to look a whole lot more like the second half of Game Three than it did in the 2.5 contests prior to that.
“Whiteside’s out, JV is out, it was a guard game today so the floor opened up a lot more,” Kyle Lowry said after Game Three. “I felt like (my) shot was there last game to be honest and I felt in was just a matter of time and me shooting the shots for them to go down.”
It shouldn’t surprise anyone the Wade and Lowry both went off in the second half of Game Three. With the starting centers out of the game, there was no rim protection and it became a free-for-all driving to the hoop which caused defenders to sag off and the three-point line to open up. Neither team could stop the other’s star guard, they could only barely slow them down.
Don’t look to an analytical predictor to help you figure which team is going to be favored now. Your only clues are going to come from how these teams performed in the regular season and how both teams won without their centers.
The Heat went 6-3 without Whiteside this season and the Raptors were 16-6 without Valanciunas. In Miami, Chris Bosh was there to step up in 8 of the games Whiteside missed, averaging 21 points and 7.8 rebounds, a small but significant bump over his season averages. In Toronto, Bismack Biyombo started the 22 games Valanciunas wasn’t available and averaged 7.2 points , 12.2 rebounds and 2 blocks, almost doubling his boards and getting about 50 percent more points and blocks in about 50 percent more minutes.
Unfortunately for Miami, Bosh is unavailable and they really don’t have anyone that can replace Whiteside’s defense and rebounding. For Toronto, Biyombo has been M.I.A. so far in the second round and they will be hoping he steps up once again in Valanciunas’ absence to give them the rim protection the Heat no longer have.
As Lowry noted about Game Three, it’ll be a guards’ game from now on. Wade and Dragic versus Lowry and DeRozan. The Heat guard duo averaging 27.5 points per game during the regular season and 36.9 points per game during this year’s playoffs. The Raptors guard duo averaging 44.7 points per game during the regular season, but only 34.1 points per game in the postseason.
Fortunately for Toronto, both of their guards appear to have reacquired their scoring touch, DeRozan averaging 22.8 points over his last four games and Lowry’s break out 33 point performance in Game Three.
Game Four will end up as DeRozan predicted, the team that wants it the most will get it, but this time at least the Raptors will be ready. It doesn’t matter who is hurt, there are no excuses in the playoffs.
“(The Heat will be) going out there and lay(ing) everything they have out there on the line and we got to go out there with that same intensity because they sure don’t want to go down 3-1,” DeRozan said.
Taking everything into consideration, the ESPN Basketball Power index odds look about right and that makes Game Four little more than a coin flip.