While Wade took his talents to Chicago this offseason, Lowry is out due to a wrist injury. Still, the Heat has a completely different look than it did when Raptors coach Dwane Casey battled it in a seven-game series victory last May in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The Heat has harnessed its efforts and scraped together wins in 20 of its last 24 games since starting the season as one of the NBA's worst teams. Its roster is stitched together with D-League personnel and a stockpile of journeymen. While effort wasn't much of a question last season during the Heats series skirmish against the Raptors, you could say that this year's team is putting forth even more given its lack of career accolades.
You could say that. But Casey says it's just "different."
"Dwyane Wade and Justise Winslow and their toughness and hard play and experience...It's different," Casey said Saturday. "These guys are here proving themselves, whereas you got an experienced player like Wade last year and good player in Winslow and those guys. Different approach, different experience, different star level...but again, taking nothing away from these players, they are playing very hard and we've got to match that type of energy."
While the Heat continues to be one of the NBA's hottest teams and storylines, the Raptors [38-27] are 6-4 in its last 10 games. Toronto is 5-3 since losing Lowry. He last suited up for the Raptors on Feb. 15. The point guard's last game was the Feb. 19 NBA All-Star Game.
"It's a hard playing team and you totally respect where they come from and how they got there," Casey said. "They have play hard defensively and shooting the basketball extremely well, analytical, getting to the rim or shooting the three. They do a good job from that standpoint. Most of all the hard play."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he doesn't try to compare this year's team to past squads, including those of the storied 'Big Three' Era.
"It just feels different," he said. "I don't necessarily try to compare one season to another. I just feel blessed that I'm in this profession of coaching. That is the thrill of coaching is that you have different challenges, different teams, different personalities and different makeups every single year. Some years are similar in personnel, but I hope I'm able to coach a lot of different teams and be able to look back on it and see that I've grown and gotten better from this craft."
The Heat held a 59-41 advantage at halftime Saturday.
Spoelstra doesn't take his role lightly during the turnaround. He has said on numerous occasions that he considers his role with the franchise as a "blessing."
"It's an impossible craft, but you try to work on it every single day and bring value to the team, to the guys in the locker room and to this organization," Spoelstra said. "I'm enjoying this year, but I've enjoyed the other years as well. Different challenges."
The Heat [31-34] has 16 games remaining this season, with nine of those remaining contests hosted at AmericanAirlines Arena. It entered Saturday's game ½ game behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race.