The Toronto Raptors are a clear betting favorite over the Miami Heat in this NBA second-round playoff series starting Tuesday night up in the capital city of Ontario.
The question is: Why!?
They’re the Toronto Raptors for crying out loud. To quote Stevie Wonder in one of the great song-title double negatives of all time: You haven’t done nothin’. This is only the second time in 21 franchise years and the first time since 2001 the Raptors have even gone past the first round, and they’ve gone no further than the second.
I know Toronto had a better season record by eight games, won three of four vs. Miami and enjoys the home-court advantage, but still. Toronto advanced despite being outscored overall by Indiana in the last series, only the second time that has ever happened. And the Heat has better depth, more offensive talent and, most important, the playoff experience Toronto lacks.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Even coach-turned-TV analyst Jeff Van Gundy says Miami would be his clear favorite here, and we’ve had a soft spot for JVG ever since that melee in the 1998 playoffs vs. the Knicks when Van Gundy — wispy combover askew – latched onto the pistoning leg of Alonzo Mourning like a Chihuahua humping a redwood.
Then again, my thinking the Heat should win this series may be wishful thinking. That, too, I will admit.
Journalists are supposed to be neutral. Impartial. Nope. Sorry. Not here.
If I were any more a homer in this series I’d be wearing a Dwyane Wade jersey and have my face painted alabaster (White Hot) as I typed these words. There would be a “Let’s Go Heat!” chant playing in the background on a continuous loop. Every once in a while, for no apparent reason, I’d pause to exuberantly shout, “Dos minutos!”
The reason for my impartiality is simple.
I want what everybody connected with the Heat from Micky Arison and Pat Riley on down wants. I want what every Heat fan wants. I want what South Florida wants.
A shot at LeBron. Not at the Cleveland Cavaliers — at LeBron.
A chance, in the Eastern conference finals, to see the team he went home to vs. the team he left so awkwardly.
Coaches and players don’t look ahead; it is against their law. The look you’d get from Erik Spoelstra would burns two holes in you if you asked him to look past Tuesday night or this series and talk about facing LeBron down the road.
Well, I do look ahead. With relish!
I look ahead to what would be sports drama at its most delicious. Beat LeBron, deny him yet again his promise to deliver a championship to Cleveland, and they might as well raise a banner in the Heat arena, hand out gaudy rings and throw a downtown parade because it would feel nearly as sweet as a championship to this franchise and its fans.
I mean, nobody would expect Miami to beat the mighty West and win it all this year. No, beating LeBron is the plausible possibility that entices and would make this season an outrageous success.
I may be wrong in all of this, but I doubt it.
The first-round advance past the Charlotte Hornets wasn’t especially compelling even as it stretched to a Game 7. There was no history or rivalry there. It was special only because it was a necessary step closer to LeBron.
Same now in the conference semifinals. There is no history or rivalry with Toronto. We don’t even get to enjoy the sidelight of Chris Bosh facing his longtime former team, unless they #BringBoshBack unexpectedly and immediately, which they won’t. No, this series is only big because it stands between Miami and LeBron — the last hurdle.
This assumes, of course that heavily favored Cleveland will march through Atlanta. They’d better. The Hawks wouldn’t dare deny us our destiny! The nation and civilized world demands Heat vs. LeBron. Can you imagine if the Eastern finals turned out to be Toronto-Atlanta? My gawd. ESPN executives would be looking for a tall ledge. It would be the biggest anticlimactic letdown since the Seinfeld finale.
Let me quickly digress with one more reason America should be cheering for the Heat to beat the Raptors.
Don’t get me wrong I love Canada, as most Americans do. Good neighbor, eh? I mean, Donald Trump hasn’t threatened to build a northern border wall yet, so how bad can they be?
But part of that good feeling is that Canada isn’t much of a threat to the United States in the major team sports. The Raptors have never won an NBA title or come close. The Blue Jays haven’t been back to the World Series in 23 years. Canada has no NFL team, of course. Even in the sport they invented, despite having seven teams, Canada has no team in the NHL playoffs for the first time since 1970 and hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1993.
So let’s keep it this way, OK?
America concedes the sport of curling to Canada, but we keep everything else.
That includes the Heat prevailing in a second-round series vs. Toronto that is nothing more than a last portal, the magic passageway to you know who.
Read Greg’s Random Evidence blog daily at MiamiHerald.com and follow on Twitter @gregcote.