Kyrie Irving
Toronto Raptors Cleveland Cavaliers January 5, 2011

The Raptors are 3 games out of last place in the East, and 3 games out of a playoff spot. Say what you want about this lot, but they play hard and give a lot of effort considering the talent level. It’s been quite some time since I’ve been able to watch them lose games and not question their heart.

The Cavs on the other hand have been utterly brutal. They are 1-17 in their last 18 games; they lost 10 in a row, beat the Knicks in overtime then lost 7 in a row heading into tonights game. To say this is a shell of a team is an understatement. That first game against the Heat was one of the most disappointing things I’ve ever watched. Sure, injuries have played a role on this team this season, but they have some talented vets and a couple youngish players; so they should be at least playing with some heart.

The last time these guys played, Sonny Weems had this to say after the game:

We weren’t trying to disrespect them, we weren’t trying to humiliate them or nothing, we did that for our fans. You get 100 points, fans get pizza and that’s every game with us.

Needless to say, that game didn’t go well for the Cavs; tonight shouldn’t be any different.

Injuries

Toronto
Reggie Evans – Out
Peja Stojakovic – Out
Sonny Weems – Day to day
Jose Calderon – Day to day

Cleveland
Anderson Varejao – Day to day
Daniel Gibson – Day to day
Mo Williams – Hurting, but should play

Match-ups

Point Guard
You really can’t ask more from Bayless, a career backup who has shown primo flashes during his short tenure as a Raptor (and starter). His speed and ability to penetrate are better suited to coming off the bench, but he’s filled in admirably for an injured Calderon. Last night against the Bulls, he was a beast making great passes and leading the brigade. He ultimately fell short against Rose, but what else did you expect?

Tonights match-up against Williams and Sessions makes me nervous, since the Cavs 1-2 at the point is one of the better combos in the league. Mo has been battling injuries, but has played very well considering he isn’t the kind of player who excels at creating his own shot. What he doesn’t do well is create high-quality scoring opportunities for his teammates, which Ramon does a better job of. If the Raptors fight through the pick-n-roll, and force these two to go it alone, this game is over. What I don’t want to see is Williams or Sessions coming off a high screen with a few options, which should be doable considering this team is brutal. The down-side to this is that both guards can get hot and drop 20 points.
Edge: Cleveland

Shooting Guard
While he didn’t put up the same numbers as the last two games, DeMar, played as well as can be expected with the return of Bargnani to the lineup; in fact, he’s treading the elevated expectation-territory in my books with a weeks worth of great games. I’m hoping that Calderon will meld DeRozan’s and Bargnani’s game’s together more cohesively once he gets back from injury. Triano will need to try something new to ensure both these guys play up to potential at the same time in the same game; I have no bright ideas on how to make this happen though.

Against Parker tonight, I’d like to see DeRozan use his athleticism, get into the lane, and get to the line at least 8 times. Parker wont be able to stop him off the dribble, and the Cavs have nobody to challenge him at the rim.
Edge: Toronto

Small Forward
Unless you’re of the opinion that Jamarion Moon and Stephen Graham are legit, the Cavs have nothing at the 3. While I appreciate Linas’ recent resurgence, the guy hasn’t seen a shot he didn’t like. Far too often the offense breaks down with a Kleiza heave that doesn’t fall with enough consistency for my liking. What I love is how he crashes the boards, especially on the offensive glass; makes like for smaller/weaker 3’s that much harder to check him.

I feel that if we keep talking about Julian Wright, that Triano will play him at some point with some degree of consistency. The guy plays good defense, makes decent decisions, and doesn’t play outside of his comfort zone. What else do you want from a bench player? Seriously, play the guy, it can’t get any worse.
Edge: Toronto

Power Forward
Antwan Jamison has been enjoying a resurgence of sorts; averaging 23pts 6rebs over the last five games. While Hickson has fallen out of favour with Byron Scott, he seems to have found some motivation coming off the bench. The two are a formidable duo to deal with, and have me concerned, as this is a spot where the Cavs can take advantage if Amir Johnson can’t put up something close to 15pts 10rebs. Amir’s play of late has been good, but not what is needed: 9pts 7rebs over the last 5 games (the two games against Houston and Dallas excluded, he played great there).

To his credit, he has been playing like a champ through some injuries, big minutes and very little help in the paint *cough* Ed Davis *cough*. Aside from that monster 17pt 12reb game against the Mavs, Ed hasn’t been providing a whole lot of what is expected, which makes life for Amir that much tougher. Fortunately, Bargnani is back, and will be pulling the guy who is defending him out of the paint, giving Amir more room to operate.
Edge: Cleveland

Center
Bargnani didn’t miss a beat last night after a few games off with injury; it was nice to see him back in action. Varejao is expected to play tonight, returning from injury, but will be fitted with a face mask to protect his broken cheek. Anderson is one of a few centers who has the ability to defend Bargnani all over the floor. With the face injury, he will be less likely to play tough in the block, which is exactly where Bargnani should attack. Where Varejao will hurt Bargnani is on the offensive glass, where his hustle is something Andrea has had problems dealing with in the past. Regardless, Bargnani should own this one.
Edge: Toronto

The Line

The gamblers have the Cavs as 1.5 point favourites with an over/under of 204. Since the game is in Cleveland, this is as close to a push as you can possibly get. I’d bet against that personally.

I’ll say it again, the Cavs are 1-17 in their last 18 games, and currently on a 7 game losing streak. After tonight, they play 10 of their next 13 on the road, so they will be looking to steal this one before heading out on a nasty road swing. They’ve had some injuries to boot, but this is a team that is hurting badly inside. The Raptors need to jump all over them from the tip and not let up one inch. Win the first half, and the Cavs will crumble; that’s got to be the plan.