After going a perfect 3-0 on a recent road trip, the Cleveland Cavaliers return to Quicken Loans Arena to square off with the Toronto Raptors for the third time in 18 days. This early season rubber match will either solidify the Raptors claim as the best team in the Eastern Conference or signal LeBron James and the Cavs have figured things out and are on their way to the top spot in the East. The Contender label goes to the victor tonight.
Cleveland won the last battle against the Raptors with a 105-91 road victory on December 5th. The Cavs held Toronto to 35-86 (.407) shooting from the field and had a season-high 24 second chance points off of 15 offensive rebounds. The team also had 28 assists and three players finish with a double-double: LeBron James with 24 points and 13 assists, Kevin Love 15 points and 13 rebounds and Tristan Thompson 21 points and 14 rebounds.
However, field goal defense and second chance points were not the reason the Cavaliers turned things around in their second meeting with Toronto. In Cleveland Love had 23 points and 7 boards, James had 15 points and 10 assists and Anderson Varejao had 13 points and 12 assists. The Raptors were held to 40 percent shooting from the field and shot 8-24 from three-point range in both games. The Cavaliers enjoyed a bigger margin in second chance points in their loss than in their win and out-rebounded the Raptors by more as well. They also shot better from the field than Toronto in both games, but the results were completely opposite.
The difference between game one in Cleveland and game two in Toronto was the intensity the Raptors played with at both ends of the court. In Cleveland, Toronto held the Cavs to 43.2 percent shooting and 3-16 from the three-point line versus giving up 48.8 percent and 9-20 from deep in Toronto. In their first meeting the Raptors attacked the Cavs defense and turned Cleveland’s aggressiveness on defense into 42 free throw attempts. Lou Williams scored a career high 36 points because the Cavs put him on the free throw line 15 times. The Raptors are second in the NBA in free throw attempts and with or without DeMar DeRozan, Toronto needs to get to the charity stripe to be successful.
Also, Toronto made up for the Cavaliers far superior rebounding in game one by turning the Cavs over 20 times for 22 points. The Raptors are the second best team in the Association at looking after the ball and make up over 4 points per game on points off turnover differential.
The Raptors keys to victory remain the same. Look after the rock, put pressure on the Cavs to foul jump shooters and turn the ball over and play solid defense.
The Cavaliers need to do what they have been doing in their last two meetings with Toronto, but stay disciplined, look after the ball and reduce the unnecessary fouls.
Both teams need to play their own game without losing focus. The Cavs do look fragile when they become undisciplined and the Raptors will settle for outside jumpers if a team can clog the paint and stay down on jump shooters without leaping a shot fakes.
This early season rubber match could easily set the tone for either team as contenders or pretenders in the Eastern Conference. Get ready for a good one.
These two teams will wrap up their regular season series on March 4 at the Air Canada Centre in what will surely be a must see game.