Miami Heat

Guards to have big say in who wins Heat-Raptors series

TNT’s Kenny Smith calls Dwyane Wade, left, and Goran Dragic the NBA’s third-best backcourt.
TNT’s Kenny Smith calls Dwyane Wade, left, and Goran Dragic the NBA’s third-best backcourt. hgabino@elnuevoherald.com

The order, like most things in life, is a matter of personal preference.

TNT’s Kenny Smith calls Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic the NBA’s third-best backcourt. Charles Barkley has Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry third, behind Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and Portland’s Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

There should be less debate about this: Whichever guard duo plays better over the next two weeks has a good chance to win this Heat-Raptors second-round playoff series that begins Tuesday night in Toronto.

This also is clear: DeRozan and Lowry aren’t playing at anything close to peak efficiency.

DeRozan averaged 17.9 points against Indiana in the first round but shot only 32 percent. He scored 30 points in Game 7 but shot 10 for 32; since 1957, no player who took at least 30 shots in a playoff game shot a worse percentage.

Lowry, meanwhile, also shot just 32 percent in the first round, including 7 of 43 on threes, while averaging only 13.9 points.

Wade (19 points per game, 47.1 percent shooting) and Dragic (14.1, 42.4) had more efficient first-round series than DeRozan and Lowry, with Wade carrying the Heat in the decisive minutes of Game 6 and Dragic shaking off a mid-series shooting slump to catapult the Heat to a win in Game 7.

“Goran Dragic is my hero,” Chris Bosh tweeted Monday.

Wade and Dragic are linked in different ways to their Toronto counterparts.

DeRozan told the Miami Herald’s Ethan J. Skolnick at the All-Star Game that he “stole the pump fake” from Wade and considers Wade his toughest cover.

“D-Wade is one of them guys I’ve had so much respect for,” DeRozan said. “Even when I was young, he always gave me a lot of advice, year after year of him seeing me grow as a player. That gave me a lot of confidence early on, to see someone you watched growing up give you insight on everything. … That’s my guy, him and Kobe [Bryant].”

But this is worrisome for Miami: DeRozan averaged more points against the Heat both this season (29.3, on 48.8 percent shooting, in four games) and during his career (21.0 in 24 games) than against any other Eastern Conference team.

DeRozan “reminds me of me,” Wade said earlier this season.

And DeRozan isn’t the only Raptors perimeter player who grew up admiring Wade. Impressive Toronto rookie Norman Powell said Sunday that Wade is “one of the guys that I looked up to, modeled my game after.”

There also is a link between Lowry and Dragic, who were Rockets teammates. When Lowry missed 15 late-season games because of injury in March and April of 2012, Dragic capitalized and parlayed it into a four-year, $30 million deal with Phoenix months later.

Both players shot poorly in the Heat-Raptors season series — Lowry shot 33.9 percent while averaging 16.8 points; Dragic shot 38.9 percent while averaging 11.0 points.

Among other interesting matchups:

▪ The battle between 7-foot centers Hassan Whiteside and Jonas Valanciunas. Whiteside averaged 13.7 points, 11.7 rebounds and 4.7 blocks in three games against Toronto. Valanciunas averaged 15.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in three games against Miami.

Whiteside defended Valanciunas pretty effectively, but Valanciunas snuck free for layups when Whiteside left him to defend DeRozan and Lowry on penetrations.

“One thing I think a lot of teams know is I’m good at getting to the basket,” DeRozan said after Toronto’s 112-104 win on March 12 at Air Canada Center, a game that Wade missed. “So teams like Miami that have got shot blockers, they’re going to try to bring the shot blocker over. So I just told our bigs: relocate. Try to find an open spot, and I’m going to try to find you every time.”

▪ The Joe Johnson/DeMarre Carroll small forward matchup.

Toronto gave Carroll a four-year, $60 million deal after his breakout season with Atlanta, but he was limited to 26 games, largely because of knee surgery, and hasn’t played especially well in the playoffs (8.6 points, 39.6 percent shooting).

Johnson has been somewhat better than Carroll so far this postseason (10.7 points, 45.9 percent shooting) but hasn’t had a breakout game. He scored 28 in that Heat overtime loss in Toronto in March.

▪ The battle of the “stretch” power forwards. Luol Deng’s 20 three-pointers easily leads all power forwards in the playoffs, and Patrick Patterson’s 10 ranks third, narrowly behind Serge Ibaka.

▪ The Heat won the first game between the teams this season (96-76 on Nov. 8), but Toronto won the next three.

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