The Cleveland Cavaliers visit the Raptors in Toronto on a 6-game winning streak that started the day after they fired general manager Chris Grant. A team with somewhat misguided playoff aspirations when the season began had just lost 6 games in a row to fall to 16-33, but the schedule was about to turn in their favor whether Grant was still in his office or not.
The Cavaliers streak started with a 2-point win in Washington followed by a tough overtime victory over the Grizzlies at home, but after that, it has been a diet of Kings, Pistons, 76ers and Magic. Things are about to get a lot tougher going forward.
There really isn’t a lot of mystery as to why the Cavaliers have been winning some games lately, the quality of their opposition notwithstanding, this team is finally playing some defense. Cleveland has surrendered 101.5 points per game on average this year, but for 5 games in a row, they have held their opponents to under 100 points and over the current 6-game winning streak, points against are averaging 93.7. Now that’s something Head Coach Mike Brown can build on.
Interestingly, the Cavaliers have been without starting center Anderson Varejao for the past 4 games because of a sore back and he isn’t expected to play on Friday in Toronto. However, interim general manager David Griffin acquired the 76ers center Spencer Hawes at the trade deadline and it’s possible all of the necessary steps will have been completed in time for him to play his first game for the Cavaliers against the Raptors.
This isn’t the first time the Cavaliers have found some defensive intensity for a stretch of games this season and when it happened previously against better quality opponents, it didn’t garner them many wins, however, winning streaks build confidence and just maybe they can keep it going now. With all of the draft picks spent on acquiring Luol Deng earlier in the season and Hawes on Thursday, Cleveland has definitely gone all-in to make the playoffs and at 22-33, they have an uphill battle.
At 29-25, the Raptors lead the Atlantic Division by 3 games over the Nets and hold a half game lead over the Bulls for third place in the East. Toronto’s season turned around in December when at 6-12 they traded Rudy Gay to the Kings for 4 players who have become an integral part of their rotation.
Head Coach Dwane Casey preaches defense and the Raptors have held opponents to an average of 96.7 points this year, fourth best in the NBA. However, all season long Casey has insisted that his team is a work in progress and the development of center Jonas Valanciunas, wing Terrence Ross and first-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan was most important. It took a long time before Casey would discuss the possibility of his team being in the postseason.
At the trade deadline, the Raptors were involved in a minor deal to acquire guard Nando de Colo from the Spurs. The Raptors intention is work with what they have and keep player development at the forefront.
Canadian Anthony Bennett drafted first overall by Cleveland in 2013 visits the Air Canada Centre for the first time as a member of the Cavaliers. After a very rough start to his rookie season, Bennett is averaging 8.3 points and 5.9 rebounds in the month of February and collected his first 2 double-doubles over his past 4 games. This will be Bennett’s only regular season NBA game in Canada this year. Fellow Canadian Tristan Thompson is almost averaging a double-double for the Cavaliers this season.
These teams play again on Tuesday in Cleveland.
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Why Did The Toronto Raptors Add Nando de Colo From The Spurs?
The Raptors had already cut one point guard this season due to their surplus in December. Point guards still on the roster include Dwight Buycks, Julyan Stone, Greivis Vasquez and Kyle Lowry. How Head Coach Dwane Casey is supposed to find minutes to evaluate De Colo isn’t clear.