Heat-Raptors Preview

DeMar DeRozan has Toronto on the verge of its longest winning streak in nearly 14 years, while Miami's scoring average on a losing streak could make one check to see if they're looking at NBA or NCAA numbers.

It has the Raptors building a solid lead in the Atlantic Division, while the banged-up Heat are falling further back of first place in the Southeast as the teams prepare to meet Friday night in Toronto.

The Raptors (27-15) have won six in a row on the heels of an embarrassing 22-point loss in Cleveland on Jan. 4. Toronto reached that level three times last season but hasn't gone beyond since a franchise-record, nine-game run March 19-April 9, 2002.

DeRozan has keyed the last two victories with an average of 32.0 points, including 34 on 13-of-25 shooting in Wednesday's 115-109 home win over Boston.

Shot selection has been part of the praise recently heaped on the 6-foot-7 guard with his 44.4 percent season mark up from 42.3 over the previous two. His 23.1 points and 4.2 assists per game are on pace to be career bests.

“I think it just comes with experience,” DeRozan said. “When you're consciously trying to become a better player every single year you look at the things you can clean up on, get better on. That's one thing I always study, and critique myself on more than anything.”

Plenty of that progress seems to have come over the last 16 games with DeRozan averaging 25.3 points and shooting 45.8 percent after opening the season with 21.7 and 43.4 marks through 26 contests.

“He's playing extremely well right now he's playing at a really high level and he's about to hit his prime right now,” point guard Kyle Lowry said. “I think you can expect him to get better over the next couple of years, grow and be an All-Star type player and a perennial All-Star.”

It's helped the Raptors shoot 48.4 percent in the last six games, but the streak hasn't come entirely without concern. In the last four games, opponents have shot 48.8 percent and connected on 46.3 from 3-point range.

“We have lost our defensive mojo a little bit,” said coach Dwane Casey, whose team moved 5 1/2 games up on the second-place Celtics. “Defending the three … that has been a concern for the past two or three games now.”

That might all be cleared up against the Heat (23-20). They have lost six of seven with two of their three three-game losing steaks for the season. On the latest, they've averaged 80.0 points while losing by an average of 18.7.

Wednesday's 106-87 defeat in Washington was at least an offensive improvement with Miami shooting 48.5 percent and hitting 7 of 15 from 3-point range.

It came with Dwyane Wade sitting out for the second time in four games due to shoulder soreness, while Chris Andersen, Goran Dragic and Beno Udrih all remained out. Hassan Whiteside left with a strained left oblique and did not return, nor did Luol Deng after being poked in the right eye.

“I just think it's very inflamed right now,” Wade said of his shoulder. “It needs to calm down so it's going to be a day-to-day process. It's very unfortunate because we're down so many bodies, but you know you got to do what's best.”

The Raptors have won three of the last four in the series after a 16-game losing streak to the Heat. The latest was a 108-94 Toronto win in Miami on Dec. 18. DeRozan scored 30 points on 10-of-17 shooting.