The Miami Heat are safely through to the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs after sweeping the Charlotte Bobcats in the opening series. Their opponent, however, is still yet to be decided with the young and exuberant Toronto Raptors slugging it out against the wise and battle-tested Brooklyn Nets.
The Raptors have made it an interesting matchup by going ahead 3-2 after a thrilling 115-113 end to Game 5 at the Air Canada Center and surprising everyone in the process.
Sure, they were the Atlantic Division winners and the third best team in the Eastern Conference but Toronto were always seen as the underdogs. That is especially true when you consider the fact that Brooklyn finished the season as the sixth-best team in the NBA having posted a 34-17 record since Jan. 1.
Now they have a chance to close out the tie in Brooklyn on Friday and everyone associated with the Miami Heat, whether as a player, or coach or fan, should be rooting for the Canadian outfit.
The Nets troubled Miami throughout the whole 2013-14 season as Jason Kidd’s team swept the regular-season series 4-0. Granted all the games were extremely tight with all but one game decided by a single possession– though even that went to overtime–the fact still remains that Miami hasn’t figured out a way to beat the Nets just yet.
Toronto, on the other hand, struggled against LeBron James and Co. with the defending champions pulling out four wins in the regular season head to head.
Obviously Miami would cherish a chance to prove they can beat the revamped Nets and they would love the chance to do so in the playoffs when the stakes are a lot higher, but the truth is, they are the only team capable of stopping the Heat right now –even if LeBron doesn’t want to admit it.
The Indiana Pacers, supposedly the biggest threat at the start of it all, are struggling mightily and are on the verge of being knocked out by the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks. Meaning that if they were to be knocked out and Toronto wins the series, the Heat’s challengers would be three teams with hardly any championship pedigree – Atlanta, Toronto and Washington Wizards.
That sounds a hell of a lot better than the alternative path back to the NBA Finals.
Although that’s not to say it would be a stroll in the park. Washington and Atlanta both split the regular season series with the Heat and they won’t just lie down if the Champs came knocking. But that’s getting way ahead of ourselves.
For now Miami has to make sure they don’t relax too much since they have time off until either Sunday or Tuesday night, depending on other results.
Sunday if the Nets-Raptors series ends in Game 6 on Friday night and if only one or neither (but not both) of the San Antonio-Dallas and Portland-Houston series goes seven games.
If the Spurs and Trail Blazers series both go seven games, the Heat’s next series would not begin until Tuesday, even if the Nets-Raptors series ends Friday.
Either way, the Miami Heat are wary of the effects of an extended rest.
“Our team could use the rest,” James said as he remembered the ugly 93-86 loss to Chicago after a long layoff prior to the second round last year. “It’s difficult. You try to take things from the year before , but it’s always challenging. We just want to keep the edge and keep our conditioning level at a pretty good level.
“If we’re not playing games, you are never going to be in tip-top game shape. If you go a week without playing, as far as games, you can get a little bit out of whack. Mentally we have to stay sharp.”