Two teams striving to improve on their early-season mediocrity clash Wednesday night when the Miami Heat visit the Toronto Raptors.
Miami stands seventh in the Eastern Conference after 20 games.
“We stand right where we don’t want to be, which is very mediocre, not good, not bad, not great, not any of those things,” Miami forward Jimmy Butler said after a 144-129 home loss to the Indiana Pacers Saturday.
“Just mediocre. You talk about our offense has been mediocre. You talk about our defense has been mediocre. That’s the word I would use.”
The Raptors sit 11th in the East after 20 games under first-year coach Darko Rajakovic.
“We’ve got to get better and better,” Rajakovic said. “We’ve got to get better protecting the paint and continuing to heavily contest open looks (from 3-point range). … there are things that we’ve made strides, and there are now things for us to focus (on) — three or four things offensively and defensively where we would like to make strides as well.”
There are reasons to believe the Heat can improve as players return from injury and they play more games at home, where they are 5-3. They are 6-6 in road games.
They have played 12 games without Tyler Herro (ankle), who was averaging 22.9 points. He could be out for another week.
Bam Adebayo (hip contusion), averaging 22.3 points per game, did not play Saturday and is not expected to play Wednesday.
Butler has missed four games this season and Caleb Martin missed the first 10 games.
“I think we’re all right,” Heat guard Josh Richardson said. “Could be better. Could be worse, too, with how much we’ve been on the road, how many injuries we’ve had.
“If we could get everyone back, we could put another streak together. We won however many in a row at some point (seven, Nov. 3-16). That speaks for something. Once we get more continuity and get everyone rolling, it will be good.”
The Raptors are 6-5 at home and have split the first two games of their three-game homestand.
“It doesn’t feel like anything is bad, it just feels like nothing is amazing,” Raptors forward Pascal Siakam said. “So we’ve got to get it to amazing.”
The Raptors have yet to win three games in a row. When they do finally have a three-game win streak, Rajakovic said that he will pay for a team dinner.
“That’s something that I (take) to heart, to be honest with you,” Rajakovic said at practice Monday. “When I announced that, Pascal said âYeah, the team is going to pay for that.’
“He thinks I’m cheap. And that’s not true, so once we get three wins in a row, I’m taking staff and players to dinner and it’s going to be out of my pocket.”
The Raptors are still trying to establish their identity.
“We’ve got to decide what kind of team we want to be,” Rajakovic said. “We know what is the road to success and we’ve got to do that for 48 minutes.
“We cannot … choose in this game we’re going to do a little bit less, a little bit more. We’ve got to have our mindset on what it takes to win every game.”