The Cleveland Cavaliers make their only visit to Toronto this season riding a 6-game winning streak. Until this recent run of success, the team had been ranked with the Knicks as one of the NBA’s biggest disappointments. In the feeble Eastern Conference, the Cavs still have a shot at the playoffs, and just beefed up their front line for a late charge. Spencer Hawes was traded from uber-tanking Philadelphia yesterday for a box of popcorn and draft picks, and should mitigate the loss to injury of Anderson Varejao.
The Cavs’ roster features two young Canadians at power forward. Tristan Thompson is in his third year, and has shown consistent improvement. He’s averaging 12+ points and nearly 10 rebounds per game. While Tristan is a capable scorer near the basket, it’s safe to say he’s not Patrick Patterson from distance – he’s missed his only 3-point attempt this season. Anthony Bennett was the first overall selection in last summer’s draft, but has struggled, to put it mildly. Several commentators have suggested he might be the worst #1 pick ever, and Anthony’s woes no doubt were a contributing factor in the firing of Cavs’ GM Chris Grant a few weeks ago. Bennett’s play has picked up slightly in recent weeks, and we should see him tonight.
Cleveland’s top player is Kyrie Irving, their dazzling point guard. I was astonished to see his name come up in trade speculation, but didn’t hear any rumors about him becoming a Rap. Too bad; I’d trade a lot of very good players for this guy. Veteran swingman Luol Deng has helped the Cavs greatly since coming from Chicago. Center Tyler Zeller is still learning the ropes in his second year. Ex-Rap Jarrett Jack is listed as the shooting guard, but we’re likely to see a lot of deep-shooting C.J. Miles.
The Cavs have tightened up their previously porous defense, and will present a significant challenge. The Raps are a deeper team, and will win if they:
- light a fire under Jonas Valanciunas. He’s bottomed out in his last few games, but needs to show up tonight. The Cavs aren’t big, and have no one who can deal with JV if he’s making his hook shots.
- provide help for Kyle Lowry when defending Irving. Kyrie is bigger than our main man, and fast enough to blow by anyone in the league. If he’s allowed free rein in the paint, he can score himself or will happily pass (he leads the Cavs in points and assists). Patterson and Terrence Ross will need to be fast on their feet.
- regain their shooting touch from deep. The Bulls game was a constant scene of shots clanking off iron. Let’s hope we don’t watch a repeat.
Cleveland’s improvement is not a fluke; they should be formidable the rest of the way, in particular when Hawes is fully integrated. Regardless, I think the Raps will bounce back from that ugly Bulls game, and grab a 103-99 victory.