Preview: Toronto Raptors (23-34) at Cleveland Cavaliers (19-38)

The Toronto Raptors travel to The Mistake by the Lake for a tussle with the resurgent Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs hurt the Raps in Toronto recently when point guard Kyrie Irving, a legend-in-training, drained a 3-ball from the dark side of the moon to snatch a one-point victory. The Raps, who must recover from a faceplant against the Wizards Monday night, are in serious need of revenge.

Feb 17, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Eastern Conference guard Kyrie Irving (2) of the Cleveland Cavaliers dribbles in the fourth quarter of the 2013 NBA all star game at the Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Young squads like Cleveland can often “arrive” quickly. While I’m not prepared to anoint the Cavs as The Next Great Team, there’s a lot to like about them. Irving just played in the All-Star game, and I predict will be an MVP candidate as soon as next season. Tristan Thompson, their Canadian forward, is progressing by leaps and bounds. Most pundits thought the Cavs “reached” for him two years ago in the draft with the #4 selection, but he’s putting up consistently excellent numbers in critical statistical categories like offensive rebounds. Another highly regarded youngster is first-year swingman Dion Waiters. He’s not going to garner many Rookie of the Year votes, as that trophy has already been conceded to Damian Lillard of Portland, but Dion is averaging 14+ points per game. Unheralded Alonzo Gee, a scrappy forward, can score, but his rebounding numbers are disappointing.

Feb 24, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Tristan Thompson (13) is fouled by Miami Heat power forward Udonis Haslem (40) during the first half at the American Airlines Arena. Miami won 109-105. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland’s second unit was bolstered significantly by the inexpensive acquisition of Marreese Speights. He’s a low-maintenance power forward who will battle on the boards and make mid-range shots.

The Cavs would be even more worrisome had they not lost rebounder extraordinaire Anderson Verajao to injury at the season’s quarter-pole. Irving has an injured knee, did not play on Tuesday night, and his status is day-to-day. If he is in uniform, the Raps will need to play hard from the opening tip, a notion which has eluded them lately. Even without him, the Cavs, who have won 6 of their last 10, will not back down.

This time last year, Cleveland was an easy out, as they say in that other game. Not any more. On the premise that Rudy Gay can’t possibly play poorly in consecutive games, I’m going to predict a close Raps victory, by 95-93.

Brian Boake is a co-editor for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.

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