Mar 23, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Jarrett Jack (1) looks on during the fourth quarter against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. The Cavaliers won 106-100. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Raptors (39-30) at Cleveland Cavaliers (27-44): 3 keys to win

Mar 23, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith (8) shoots the ball over Cleveland Cavaliers center Spencer Hawes (32) during the first quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

 

The Toronto Raptors begin a stretch of four games in 6 nights with a visit to Cleveland. The sole comfort in such a miserable scheduling trick is the weakness of the opponents. The Cavaliers were expected to make strides this season, following a significant rebuild which was graced with extraordinary luck (two #1 selections in 3 years!) from the draft lottery’s ping pong balls. Instead, they have flopped badly, proving once again that tanking is not guaranteed to produce a turnaround.

The Cavs now must cope with a rash of injuries, which would be a bigger problem if they were in contention for a playoff position. That’s a pipe dream at this point, so Cleveland will rest everyone it needs to, and create patchwork lineups. It worked for them against the Knicks on Sunday night, as they roared back from a 17-point first-half deficit to win. With All-Star Kyrie Irving on the shelf, ex-Rap Jarrett Jack gets the start at point guard. He’s still capable of fine play, putting up 31 points and 10 assists in New York. Spencer Hawes was traded from the nightmarish Philadelphia 76ers at the deadline, and has helped the Cavs significantly. He has proven to be more than a banger under the boards; he can stretch the defense with his 3-balls, or put it on the floor. Dion Waiters has been promoted to starting shooting guard, and can shoot or drive, but isn’t a bothersome defender. Luol Deng has been a “do-everything” small forward for years. Tristan Thompson, one of the Cavs’ 2 Canadians (the other, Anthony Bennett, is out with “left patellar tendon strain”, or a bad knee for the rest of us), will gobble up a bunch of offensive rebounds, but hasn’t got a lot of other tools.

Off the bench, Alonzo Gee can make scoring difficult for DeMar DeRozan, though he won’t contribute to the Cavs’ offense. Anderson Varejao isn’t the reboundin’ fool he used to be due to injuries, yet can still mix it up. Guard Matthew Dellavedova looks like the assistant trainer, but has some game.

The Raps have beaten this team twice when Irving was in the lineup. Without him, Toronto should dominate, and will if they:

  • continue to have faith in Terrence Ross. Our 3-point shooter is struggling at the moment, but is due to snap out of his funk. As long as he plays solid D, he belongs on the floor, and will get open looks, which he needs to bury.
  • aren’t satisfied with jump shots. The Cavs are vulnerable to penetration, particularly if Hawes gets into foul difficulty. Expect to see Kyle Lowry and DeMar attacking the basket.
  • get a return to form from the second unit. Greivis Vasquez has been short on his 3-balls, John Salmons is showing his age, Tyler Hansbrough needs to find a league with a bigger basket to shoot at – this group hasn’t been pretty to watch lately.

The fourth quarter against Atlanta was a huge shot in the arm for the Raps’ confidence. I think that vibe will carry over, and Toronto will win 104-93.

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