Game No. 63: Heat 96, Raptors 72

The Heat rested Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for this one, and you can’t really blame them considering that they’re concerned with the postseason and winning a championship, not with being at full strength for a meaningless April game against the 22-win Raptors.

The Raps actually looked capable of hanging with the LeBron-led Heat in the first half, but put up a historically bad stinker of a second half (more on that later) to ensure loss No. 41.

Now here are some thoughts on the game:

1- I mentioned the historically bad second half sinking the Raptors, but I don’t think just using the words “historically bad” does those 24 minutes of Raptors “basketball” justice. The Raps headed into the break down 51-49, and were pretty much matching the Heat blow for blow, if not taking the game to them in the first two quarters. They then came out and put a measly 11 points on the board in the third quarter, and barely topped themselves with 12 more in the fourth quarter. 23 points in 24 minutes – the worst second half offensive performance in Raptors history, and tied for the worst half in franchise history. Miami’s defence can be scary good at times, and it was definitely stingy on this night, but make no mistake, the Raptors’ offence was downright ugly in that second half. My original online feed actually cut out midway through the third quarter, and I assume it was just the Basketball Gods trying to save me from one of the worst hours of basketball I’d ever see.

2- If there was one positive from this pitiful performance, it was the production the Raptors got from the small forward position, as Alan Anderson and James Johnson combined for 33 points on about 47 per cent shooting (14-of-30), though obviously, much of that damage was done in the first half, when the Raps actually looked like a professional basketball team. I don’t anticipate many new storylines coming up in the last week of the Raptors’ season, but I am interested in seeing if Anderson can continue to build on his surprising performance with Toronto, and if he can actually win himself a spot on the Raptors’ roster next season.

3- I’ve given the Raptors’ bench bigs some praise recently – heck, I even gave Solomon Alabi some love on Monday night – but the big men were a big weakness in this game. Amir Johnson, Aaron Gray, Ed Davis and Alabi combined for just 15 points, 15 rebounds, five blocks, two assists and one steal. Again, those are the combined numbers of four players.

4- A few words on the Heat. I didn’t pick Miami to win the NBA championship this season (and I actually picked the Bulls to win the East), but anyone who’s totally writing them off on the foolish premise that they’ve struggled at times during the regular season and because they aren’t exceptional on the road is dreaming. In case you forgot, this team never looked particularly sharp last season, and then proceeded to cruise through the first three rounds of the playoffs, including a dominating performance by LeBron and co. at Chicago in the Eastern Conference Final. I’ll stick with my prediction of Chicago taking the East crown this season, because I actually believe the Bulls are the best team in the East, but I’m not naive enough to think Miami’s random “troubles” at various times during the regular season are an indication of an early playoff implosion either.

5- Sticking with the Heat, I’ll come right out and say it: If you don’t think LeBron James is the MVP this season, you need some sort of psychiatric evaluation, or you’re hate is clouding your judgement. Either way, you’re way, wayyy off. If LeBron were having a legendary season for a team on the outside of the playoff picture, or a team on the playoff bubble, I could see justification for going with Kevin Durant for NBA MVP. But the fact is that James is averaging 27 points, eight rebounds, six assists, two steals and nearly a block per game for a team that would be on pace for about 60 wins in a regular 82-game schedule. Add to that the fact that he has a ridiculous Player Efficiency Rating over 30, which is far and away better than anyone else in the Association, and you can see why LeBron’s 2011-2012 season is seen by many as one of the greatest regular seasons we’ve ever seen. I’ll be the first to admit that I hated “The Decision,” and I’ve taken exception with a lot of things LeBron has said since then, but you can’t hold those things (or his 2011 Finals performance) against him in judging his remarkable feats this season. He’s the MVP this year. Case closed.

6- If you take a look at the Raptors’ upcoming schedule, you’ll see that Wednesday night’s contest in Miami was likely Toronto’s last game against a winning team this season (unless the Bucks finish with a winning record), and if I just counted correctly, the Raps will finish with an abysmal 11-29 record against winning teams. While they often performed well above our expectations in most of those 40 games, many Raptors fans will look at that record from a “Tank Nation” perspective and say it’s to their liking. If you look at the standings with a week to go, you’ll notice that unless the pathetically tanking Cavaliers and Kings win a few games, the Raptors will likely end up finishing somewhere between sixth from the bottom and ninth from the bottom (and they could still finish 10th from the bottom if the Timberwolves don’t win another game), so to be honest, I think it’s time to put the whole Tank Nation thing to bed. Let whatever is going to happen over the next three games happen, and we’ll see where that lands us come next Thursday night, and come the lottery in May.

Raptors Player of the Game: James Johnson – 25 Min, 18 Pts, 7-12 FG, 1-2 3PT, 3-3 FT, 6 Reb, 2 Ast, 3 Stl, 1 TO

Heat Player of the Game: LeBron James – 30 Min, 28 Pts, 12-15 FG, 1-1 3PT, 3-4 FT, 5 Reb, 4 Ast, 2 Stl, 5 TO