Don't look now, but the Miami Heat are charging their way back up the Eastern Conference standings.
Following this win over the Toronto Raptors, the Heat have now won four-consecutive games as they work their way back into the East playoff picture after a slow start to the season. Miami's star duo of Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were terrific in this one, proving to be too much to handle as they outlasted quality games from the Raptors' backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet.
For more on this back-and-forth contest, we have you covered with some takeaways below.
1. Kyle Lowry's return
The Raptors All-Star guard had missed the last four games with a thumb injury but made a big return to the lineup in this one. Lowry picked up right where he left off, catching fire in this contest to put a spark into Toronto's offence.
The veteran floor general finished with 24 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and two steals on one of his most efficient shooting nights of the season. Lowry shot 9-for-13 from the field and 4-for-7 from beyond the arc, seemingly unbothered by his thumb injury.
Good to have you back, @Klow7 pic.twitter.com/LwJ33R2Bvg- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) February 25, 2021
The Raptors have survived life without Lowry this season, recording a record of 6-1 without their star guard in the lineup as different players step up to fill his void. With Lowry back in the lineup in this one, the supporting cast put together a lacklustre outing that saw Toronto come up short of a victory.
2. Small-ball lineup returns
With Lowry back in the lineup, head coach Nick Nurse elected to go with the team's small-ball starting lineup of Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam. While Anunoby held things down defending star centre Bam Adebayo in the first frame, the small-ball lineup didn't see much playing time together after that with Siakam getting into foul trouble in the first half.
Adebayo would eventually loosen up in the contest and give the Raptors' smaller lineups trouble, as Nurse was forced to use more Chris Boucher and Aron Baynes to try and combat his interior presence.
Adebayo would finish with a double-double of 19 points and 12 rebounds, but that doesn't mean Toronto's small lineup can't work. With limited practice and Lowry's injury, there hasn't been much continuity of this new-look lineup. Don't be surprised to see Nurse continue to go to his versatile unit that beholds the team's five best players on the floor at once.
3. All-Star snub Jimmy Butler?
Butler was one of the deserving players that didn't see his name called as an All-Star reserve, particularly because he has only played in now 20 games this season. (For what it's worth, All-Star starter Kevin Durant has only appeared in 19 games this season).
The Heat's star forward put together a well-rounded performance that certainly appeared All-Star worthy, notching a near-triple-double of 27 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds to go with three steals and a block.
It's Jimmy timeeee pic.twitter.com/0Buko3vabi- Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) February 25, 2021
This shouldn't come as a surprise as Butler has been fantastic whenever he is able to suit up this season. While COVID-19 health and safety protocols and nagging injuries have caused him to miss some games, he's averaging 19.1 points, 7.6 assists 7.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game when he's available.
Butler was the catalyst that sparked Miami's energy to help them come away with a win in this one.
4. Pascal Siakam's foul trouble results in quiet night
For as great as Siakam has been as of late, the star forward didn't have it in this one as foul trouble made it tough to get into any sort of a rhythm.
Siakam would finish with a season-low five points while going 1-for-6 from the field, which also accounts for his lowest number of field goal attempts in a game this season.
Siakam picked up four fouls in the second quarter alone with the fourth being a drive to the basket in transition that was ruled a block, challenged by head coach Erik Spoelstra, and reversed as a charge on the Raptors forward.
He would only play nine minutes in the second half, which helps explain his season-low in scoring and field goal attempts.
Foul trouble was an issue that Siakam delt with frequently at the start of the season, fouling out of two of his first four games while playing with five fouls in four of his first 10 games. He cleaned up his play on that end of the floor since then, but after recording five fouls in Tuesday's lost to the Philadelphia 76ers, Siakam will have to again be conscious of his fouling on defence.
5. Heat bench makes the difference
In a game that was decided by eight points, Toronto's bench was outscored by Miami's bench 40-24.
Goran Dragic returned to the lineup from a nine-game absence due to an ankle injury and gave Miami 15 points off the bench. Veteran wing Andre Iguodala caught fire from 3-point range in the third quarter and finished with 12 points on four 3s, while Gabe Vincent had 11 points and rookie Precious Achiuwa had one point on a free throw.
Chris Boucher added a spark off the bench as he always does with 11 points, but he was the only Raptor reserve in double figures. Aron Baynes added seven points and Terence Davis chipped in six points, but they couldn't keep up with the Heat's second unit.
In a night where Siakam couldn't stay on the floor the Raptors could've used a boost from their bench but the Heat had a significant edge in that aspect, which ultimately helped decide the outcome.
6. What's next?
The Raptors fall back under .500 at 16-17 and will have to wait until Friday when they take on the Houston Rockets to get back to even. The Heat advance to 15-17, creeping up the standings with a four-game win streak. They'll have a tough contest against the hottest team in the NBA when they host the Utah Jazz on Friday.
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