Cavaliers [26-14] at Raptors [27-11]: Preview & 3 keys to victory

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07: Lebron James
TORONTO, ON - MAY 07: Lebron James /

The Raptors are going to be short-handed against the Cavaliers tonight. However Cleveland has had its own issues recently. Which wounded giant will prevail?

Toronto Raptors fans have had to wait almost half the season, but finally there are a pair of home games against monster opponents to watch. The Golden State Warriors will visit on Saturday night, and tonight the Cleveland Cavaliers are in the house.

ORLANDO, FL – JANUARY 6: Isaiah Thomas
ORLANDO, FL – JANUARY 6: Isaiah Thomas /

The Cavaliers’ results to date have been mixed. They are having little trouble racking up wins at home, but are a ho-hum 11-10 away from Cleveland. Their 1-2 record so far on a 5-game road swing provides hope for the Raptors. However, Cleveland is healthy (the absence of Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert doesn’t hurt them), which is more than Toronto can claim.

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Kyle Lowry was held out of the Miami Heat game because of that nasty tumble he sustained in Brooklyn, which resulted in back spasms and a tailbone bruise. Whether he plays against the Cavs probably won’t be known until a few minutes before the opening tip, but I’m building this Preview on the assumption he sits.

Serge Ibaka has been bounced from this game by the NBA for his short, nasty confrontation with James Johnson on Tuesday.

The Cavaliers look strong

I can’t write about the Cavs and not mention LeBron James, so here goes: the GOAT candidate is burnishing his reputation with an MVP-like season at the age of 33. He’s a “columns are full” guy night after night, leading the team with 27.2 points and 9 assists Per Game [PG]. The King sits third in the NBA in PER at 29.9, fractionally behind Giannis and The Beard.

Kevin Love is frequently the beneficiary of LeBron love, as he gets to fire away a bunch of open corner-3s following perfect passes. He’s their top rebounder as well. Tristan Thompson has been bumped to the bench after years as the lunchbucket starting center. Jae Crowder and (finally, say all Cleveland followers everywhere) Isaiah Thomas run around in the backcourt. Thomas will need more time to grasp the nuances of being a Cavalier, and reach peak fitness, but he will.

JR Smith starts as the sort-of power forward, but Cleveland is largely positionless. With talent like Dwyane Wade, Kyle Korver and Jeff Green ready to pop off the bench and contribute, coach Tyronn Lue can throw a lot of looks at opponents.

3 keys to Raptors victory

  1. Force LeBron to defend. King James is a force of nature, and trying to neutralize him is akin to eating soup with a fork, but you have to make the attempt. He’s superb on defense (1.7 fouls compared to 1.67 steals PG), so the best you can do is tire him out by running him through multiple picks. On offense, I keep hearing about how you need to make him a shooter. Are you sure? He’s hitting almost 39% of his threes, and always seems to make one when most needed. Let him drive, and contest at the rim.
  2. Don’t let Korver take open looks from deep. This guy is whose picture you see when you look up Streaky Shooter in the hoops dictionary. Well, maybe not, but it should be. He’s their CJ Miles, a pick-&-pop specialist.
  3. Grab some rebounds! Maybe that’s as silly as advising “make your shots”, but after seeing the Heat destroy the Raptors on the boards Tuesday night, it needs to be said, forcefully.


There are so many unknowns with this game. Cleveland has lost six of its past nine games, so they are definitely out of sorts. Defensively they are vulnerable, having surrendered 127 points in their last two. Fortunately for them, one of those was against Orlando, so they prevailed. The Timberwolves ate them alive.

I can’t escape the fact the Raptors are almost certainly down two starters.

Cleveland 116 – Toronto 109