1) Get ready for the small-ball experience in Heat/Raptors Game 4. Probably. Here’s what we know about Game 4: The Heat are without Hassan Whiteside, and the Raptors are without Jonas Valanciunas. The big men had played prominent roles in this series — particularly Whiteside’s rim protection, and Valanciunas on the glass and setting screens (he has also been the Raptors most efficient scorer this series). Now what? Nobody knows. Coaches Erik Spoelstra and Dwane Casey have an idea what they want to do, but both know they will have to adjust on the fly as this series enters uncharted water. Funky lineups and experimentation will be the norm.
Expect a lot of small ball from both teams — both played this way a chunk during the season, it’s not completely new to them. The Raptors likely start Bismack Biyombo but expect them to go with Patrick Patterson, maybe Norman Powell and James Johnson at center for long stretches. If Toronto can get offensive production elsewhere (or builds a nice lead), Biyombo becomes a good defensive option inside, but he hurts the offense badly. The Raptors have the depth to play around with lineups and see what works. Also, they have Kyle Lowry, who started to get hot last game (5-of-8 from three) and will benefit more than anyone that there is no Whiteside in the paint. The loss of Whiteside hurts the Heat more than the loss of Valanciunas does Toronto, because the Heat have no other rim protectors.
Spoelstra’s options at the five for Miami are older and less versatile: Udonis Haslem, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Josh McRoberts. One or more of them needs to step up, and expect some five-wing lineups. The bottom line may be whichever team can get better defense out of their small ball lineups will win this game and likely have a leg up in the series. It just feels like the Raptors may have an advantage there.
2) Will Stephen Curry play? Curry’s health been the storyline of the playoffs so far, and the Warriors just upgraded him from doubtful to questionable for Game 4 against the Trail Blazers. Reading the tea leaves, when a team upgrades a player’s status on game day, he usually plays.
There are bigger questions at stake than just Curry’s availability. How well does he move? Is he rusty? Most importantly, how prepared will he be for the for the conference finals?
Golden State is still favored, though not invincible, against Portland. The Warriors are far more likely to need Curry at or near full strength in the next round
3) Outside shooting of Trail Blazers’ forwards. Curry or no Curry, the Trail Blazers still have a dangerous offense that can give Golden State trouble. Guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum attract so much attention, their frontcourt teammates are often left open on the perimeter. After shooting 11-for-31 (35%) on 3-pointers in Games 1 and 2, Portland forwards combined to shoot 8-for-12 (67%) from beyond the arc in the Trail Blazers’ Game 3 win:
- Al-Farouq Aminu (4-for-5)
- Maurice Harkless (1-for-2)
- Gerald Henderson (1-for-1)
- Allen Crabbe (2-for-4)
Henderson and Crabbe also play guard, but with Lillard and McCollum logging so many minutes, Henderson and Crabbe are spending most of their time in the frontcourt. It’s a nice wrinkle that gives Portland more shooting.
But when Aminu and Harkless are hitting from outside – and providing the benefits of being true forwards – the Trail Blazers are a tough out.