MIAMI (SportsDirect Inc.) — The Miami Heat are in the midst of a remarkable run and they still have plenty of work to do to secure a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference as they host the Toronto Raptors on Saturday night.
The Heat have won three in a row – two against East leader Cleveland – and 20 of their last 24 contests overall to pull within a half game of eighth-place Milwaukee and are just two out of sixth.
“You have to continue to try to get better,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters. “Our game can still get to another two, three, four levels. Whatever it is, we’re not going to put a ceiling on it. But it’ll be needed. We can’t stay at this level, that won’t be enough.”
The Raptors were rolling along on a 6-2 run before falling 105-99 at Atlanta on Friday night despite a 28-point effort from All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan.
Toronto forced 21 turnovers, but allowed 52 percent shooting from the field to see its lead on fourth place in the East over Atlanta reduced to two games.
The Raptors won the only other meeting this season 96-87 at home on Nov. 4 after beating the Heat in a seven-game Eastern Conference semifinal series last season.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, Sportsnet One (Toronto), FSN Sun (Miami)
ABOUT THE RAPTORS (38-27): DeRozan became the first player in franchise history to reach 11,000 points Friday, going 12-of-30 from the field after averaging just 12.5 points in the previous two contests. Newly acquired forward Serge Ibaka continued his strong play with 18 points Friday and center Jonas Valanciunas is averaging 16 points and 10.7 rebounds over the last three games. Toronto, which is without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry (wrist) for a few more weeks, got forward DeMarre Carroll (ankle) back Friday after a one-game absence and he scored 11 against his former team.
ABOUT THE HEAT (31-34): Miami plays six of the next seven games at home, where it has won four in a row, and are getting contributions from throughout the lineup. Point guard Goran Dragic (20.2 points, 6.1 assists) is scoring 22 and dishing out seven assists per game over the last three and backcourt mate Dion Waiters has recorded 53 total points in the last two contests to push his average to 15.9. Center Hassan Whiteside (16.5 points, league-high 14.1 rebounds) has registered seven consecutive double-doubles and 10 in his last 11 outings.
1. Toronto PG Cory Joseph is doing his best to replace Lowry, averaging 13.2 points and five assists over the last five contests.
2. Miami F Luke Babbitt scored 12 points in the 108-101 win over Charlotte on Wednesday – only his second double-digit output since Jan. 23.
3. Toronto G Norman Powell scored 12 in Friday’s loss and is averaging 14 over the last five contests.
(© Copyright 2017 SportsDirect Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)