The Toronto Raptors play the next of their flurry of games against downtrodden teams tonight with a rematch against the Cavaliers in Cleveland. While our guys have been fending off all comers in the Atlantic Division to sit first, the Cavs continue to disappoint and are a case in point against tanking. Despite Cleveland’s juicy draft slots the past few years (#1 & #19 in ’13, #4 & #24 in ’12, #1 & #4 in ’11), they are struggling mightily, and coach Mike Brown might follow recently-fired GM Chris Grant out the door. Owner Dan Gilbert is notorious for his impatience. A spate of injuries hasn’t helped their cause either.
The Raps ended the Cavs’ 6-game winning streak on Friday night, and since then they’ve dropped another game, to the Wizards. With a hefty 4.7 team differential between points allowed and scored, the Cavs aren’t out of the woods yet. There are some positives: Tristan Thompson ranks third in the East with 27 double-doubles, Spencer Hawes came from Philly at low cost to help their front court, and Anthony Bennett is showing flashes of justifying his #1 overall selection.
Toronto has played well enough to win, but has not put together 48 minutes of sound basketball for some time. Is tonight the game in which they look like a team zeroing in on a strong playoff run?
The Raps will win this game if they:
- shut down Kyrie Irving once again. Terrence Ross is utilizing his athleticism to stay in front of some of the NBA’s best wingmen. He outscored Kyrie the All-Star Game MVP 20-17, allowing him just 3 baskets on 16 shots.
- get some production from all our big men. Jonas Valanciunas had a fine game against their front line; can he do it again? Patrick Patterson will likely shoulder a large load, as Amir Johnson’s ankle won’t stand much more abuse. Everyone will need to box out Tristan Thompson, who’s their only healthy rebounder. Cleveland had more rebounds and blocked shots on Friday than Toronto; that shouldn’t happen.
- get lane penetration from Greivis Vasquez. This fellow is at his best when he’s making his floaters, and should find space against Cleveland’s weak second unit.
The Cavaliers are next year’s team (they have been saying that for a while, actually), but with a depleted line-up don’t have enough to beat this season’s Raps. Toronto has some anxious moments, but comes away with a 97-90 victory.