The two-time defending Atlantic Division Champion Toronto Raptors are off to a 5-1 start and they look to stay hot on the road as they visit the Miami Heat in South Beach on Sunday.
The road team was off to a 5-0 start in quest of its third straight Atlantic Division title before losing its last game in Orlando, but now look for a bounce-back effort Sunday evening when those Toronto Raptors (5-1, 5-1 ATS) continue to enjoy the Florida climate as they pay a visit to the Miami Heat (3-3, 3-3 ATS) at American Airlines Arena in Miami, FL at 6:05 ET in a game available on Sunshine Sports.
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has Toronto as a small underdog for this contest with the current line at +2½ with odds of -108.
Raptors off of First Loss
The Raptors did not get much respect from the oddsmakers before the season as they were only mild favorites over the Boston Celtics to “three-peat” as Atlantic Champions and their odds to win the NBA Championship were set at 66/1 at some spots. That may have motivated the Raptors to get off to their 5-0 start that included an impressive road win at Boston, although the Toronto record is no longer unblemished following a 92-87 loss to the Magic in Orlando Friday.
The Heat were also the losing NBA picks Friday on the road 90-87 to the Pacers in Indiana, as 3-3 Miami continued its pattern of alternating wins and losses through the first six games of the year, which is a pattern the Heat would obviously like to see get continued here. However, this could end up being their toughest battle for a while as their schedule seemingly gets easier after this contest.
Constantly Overcoming Slow Starts
The Raptors are 5-1 despite consistently getting off to slow starts during this young season as they are averaging the fewest first-quarter points in the NBA so far at 21.5 per opening stanza, and that finally caught up to them Friday when they scored a measly 15 points in the first quarter in Orlando before using a lot of energy to overcome a 15-point deficit and take a lead before fading late. Imagine how good Toronto could be if it actually gets an earlier wake-up call!
One noticeable difference for this Raptors’ team relative to the last two division championship teams is improved defense, as Toronto is currently sixth in the NBA in points against at 95.0 per game and third in field goal percentage allowed at just 40.8 percent. And they have been able to do that without hurting the offense too much with the Raptors still averaging 102.8 points per game to rank 11th in the league.
That offensive average could be even better though if Toronto can begin its games a bit better, and the 18th ranked 42.7 percent shooting could also stand some improvement. The Raptors are eighth in the league in three-point shooting though at 35.8 percent, which has helped overcome the overall percentage.
”Easy” Schedule Stretch after This Game
A better start by Toronto could put an end to the Miami alternating pattern here by handing the Heat a second straight loss, but the good news for Miami is it may now be on its easiest scheduling stretch of the entire season. That is because this game marks the beginning of a seven-game home stand, the longest home stand of the season for the Heat, and also after this game the next eight games will all be vs. teams that failed to make the NBA Playoffs last season.
Thus a loss here would not really be the end of the world and with this being the Heat’s third game in four nights before beginning the long stretch of games vs. losing teams on Tuesday, Coach Erik Spoelstra might limit the minutes of his veterans here, especially Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh with the latter working his way back after missing most of last season with blood clots in his lung.
And remember that the Raptors did win the last two meetings with the Heat last season after Miami had incredibly won the previous 16 encounters, and as mentioned this is a better defensive team for Toronto than the one that won those last two matchups.
A Visitors’ Series
Finally, the road teams have had uncanny success in this head-to-head series going 10-4 ATS in the last 14 meetings. Also, the Heat are a dismal 1-8 ATS in their last nine games vs. teams with a winning records.
Expect those patterns to continue here with Toronto getting back into the win column as a tiny underdog as it pays a visit to Miami on Sunday.
NBA Pick: Raptors +2½ (-108)