Let’s be honest, the winner of the turgid series between the Toronto Raptors and the Miami Heat aren’t going to beat Cleveland. They might not even win a game. The series has the feeling of two asthmatic smokers locked in a long distance race, only for the winner to be immediately shoved into a ring to fight the heavyweight champion of the world. As a result the Eastern Conference Finals probably aren’t going to be pretty. Neither team looks particularly well equipped to deal with a Cavs team which appears to be gelling at just the right time. On top of this Injuries to key players have only compounded the struggles both teams are facing this postseason. Despite the likelihood of an embarrassing defeat in the next round, advancing is incredibly important for both teams.
For the Raptors victory would mean a first trip to the conference finals and a chance to lift the spectre of post season failure that has hung around the Raptors franchise. Having finally got all-star performances from Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan in the same game, as the Raptors took a 3-2 lead last night, Toronto should be confident of advancing. Hopefully Lowry and DeRozan can draw on last nights performance and carry it on for the rest of the playoffs, as long as it lasts for Toronto. Too often Toronto’s two key players have followed a good performance with horror shows in the following game. If the Raptors are to put up anything more than paper thin resistance against the Cavs they need to find some consistency form their two all-stars. Even if their trip to Conference Finals ends in defeat, strong performances from Lowry and Derozan could help them shed their reputation as post-season bottlers.
The Heat on the other hand have been to the Finals of the East in 5 of the last 10 seasons, so in many ways a 6th trip would mean much less for Miami. However, they will want to achieve as much as possible for their ageing talisman Dwyane Wade. In so many ways Wade is Miami basketball and he has dragged the Heat through the 2016 playoffs so far. But as they say father time is undefeated and at 34 Wade is probably nearing the end of his powers. One last trip to the dance to face his old teammate, and great friend, LeBron James would surely be a fitting way to send Wade out. On top of this a trip to this level of the competition whilst Wade is still relatively near his best can only be beneficial for Miami’s young core.
Both teams need to see this post season as an opportunity to gain experience for the future. At some point the reign of LeBron will end in the East and when that happens these two young franchises need to be ready to fill the void. They need to learn lessons from the Atlanta Hawks back to back savagings at the hands of the Cavs, learn what this stage of the season is all about, try not to be afraid of the big bad wolf that is LeBron, and come back stronger next year.