By Tim Reynolds
AP Basketball Writer
MIAMI — The centers are hobbled and sidelined. The starting point guards have seen their faces bloodied. Both teams have key forwards dealing with wrist injuries, and Toronto’s leading scorer needs his super-tender thumb wrapped in something resembling a shoelace so he can play.
Someone will win this Toronto-Miami series.
Or more accurately, someone will survive this series.
The Raptors are leading 3-2 and therefore have two chances to be the ones who emerge, the first coming in Game 6 at Miami on Friday night. The Raptors know they’re playing Sunday afternoon — either in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals in Cleveland, or back in Toronto for Game 7 of this East semifinal matchup.
“It’s a seven-game series and these kind of series are very competitive,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Thursday. “They’re built to push you and stress you and put you in uncomfortable situations. And that’s what this series is doing right now. It’s a competitive series. Guys are embracing the competition. And we have a job to do tomorrow. We’re just focused on tomorrow.”
Both teams got good news Thursday.
Tests performed on the injured wrists of Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll and Miami’s Luol Deng showed they were just dealing with bruises after getting hurt in the Raptors’ Game 5 win on Wednesday night. Officially, Carroll and Deng are listed as questionable, but the expectation is that both will be available to go in Game 6.
“If it ain’t broke, with me, I’m ready to play,” Carroll said.
Said Deng: “I’ve had worse injuries than this.”
Miami center Hassan Whiteside (knee) and Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas (ankle) are both expected to miss their third consecutive games. DeMar DeRozan’s right thumb — the one wrapped in a shoelace — is still painful, yet he and backcourt mate Kyle Lowry were still able to lead the Raptors to a win in Game 5.
“Right now there’s nobody healthy in this league, totally healthy,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “There’s something that’s hurting on somebody. Kyle Lowry looks like a boxer, got cuts on both eyelids. This is the time you play through it. This is what you work in the summer for. This is what you prepare your professional career for — playoff time.”
Lowry has shed blood in this series, as has his point guard counterpart, Miami’s Goran Dragic.
No one seems to mind the physicality. Lowry said it’s just a byproduct of two teams fighting for their seasons.
“Everything’s just been basketball,” Lowry said. “It’s been physical. It’s just a fun game and it’s that time of the year.”
A look at Friday’s lone NBA game:
Raptors at Heat, Toronto leads 3-2. 8 p.m., ESPN.
This is already the longest postseason in Raptors’ history, with Friday marking their 13th game of these playoffs. Toronto’s previous mark was 12 playoff games in 2001.
Of course, the Raptors hope they’re just getting started.
Their bags are already packed for Cleveland. That’s not disrespect toward Miami, just smart planning considering the potentially very tight turnaround if the Raptors win on Friday. But history suggests it won’t be easy — the Raptors are 1-4 all-time in road closeout chances, and only two East teams have won two games at Miami in the same series since Dwyane Wade was drafted in 2003.
“They are well-coached, they play really hard and they’ve got Dwyane Wade,” Lowry said. “He’s playing at a level that he’s pretty much played at his whole career.”
Wade has been Miami’s best player in the series, and he’ll likely need to stay that way. He’s avoided knockout blows plenty of times before — the Heat are 7-1 in their last eight games when facing elimination, including 2-0 this season.
“Our guys love this,” Spoelstra said. “Our guys love this kind of competition.”
Miami got down by 20 in Wednesday’s Game 5 loss, cut the deficit down to one but never got all the way over the hump. The Heat haven’t scored more than 94 points in regulation yet game in this series, Joe Johnson is 1 for 17 from 3-point range and Miami is facing elimination even though Lowry and DeRozan are both shooting under 40 percent from the field.
And if the Heat are to get a chance to match up with former Miami star LeBron James in the East finals, they need to defy the odds. Teams that lose Game 5 of a tied best-of-seven go on to ultimately lose the series 82 percent of the time.
“Whatever it takes,” Spoelstra said. “We have enough.”