Kyrie Irving – Solid as a rock.

Andrea Bargnani came back, so I can only assume the Raptors won both games over the weekend! Of course we didn’t. For one, there’s an appreciable adjustment period to be expected working Bargs back into the rotation, especially defensively where the units have come together pretty well of late. Additionally, the Raptors were 6-7 with him before, not exactly gangbusters. So please, don’t be quick to call his earlier 13-game performance an apparition. Tonight will be the first real test of how this team can look (again) with Bargs worked fully back into the fold, without a limit on minutes or a concern for defensive sets. One key, though, will be to get him touches early in the contest, something the team failed to do effectively on Saturday but did better with Sunday.

But enough about Bargs, let’s talk about the opponent – it’s Cleveland, baby!

Okay, so maybe not the most exciting match-up we could ask for. The Cavaliers aren’t quite star-studded or a big-ticket attraction, but there are some interesting reasons to watch, not the least of which is that the Raptors already own a victory over them from the Boxing Day season opener.

First and most obviously is Kyrie Irving. Basically, the Cavs are showing Raps Nation right now just what a franchise-changing point guard can do for a team. This was a squad that had no discernible assets entering the offseason last year, and after taking Irving at #1 and Canadian Tristan Thompson at #4, they now have a legitimate core to build around. Irving is the runaway Rookie of the Year, and has this team playing what could generously be called borderline playoff basketball. A caveat – that’s in the Eastern Conference, where sadly enough their 16-23 record has them just a half game behind the Bucks (!) for the right to be swept by Chicago or Miami. Thank you, New York Knicks’ 6-game losing streak, for making the Eastern Conference Playoff race that much tighter and more exhilerating. Must-see TV, those battles between potential playoff teams with .429 winning percentages (what is this, the NHL’s Eastern Conference? Go Leafs Go!).

Irving will be matched up against the point guard trio of Jerryd Bayless, Leandro Barbosa, and Gary Forbes, a triumvirate that is no coach’s wet dream. Jose Calderon will miss another game with his sprained ankle, leaving our commenters with ample cannon fodder for the message boards and the comment thread of this post. “This team is better without Jose! Bayless sucks! Give Forbes 48 minutes a game, let’s see what we have! Tony Wroten Jr!” etc etc. Enjoy, everyone. This actually might be Bayless’ last crack at auditioning for a major future role, so sarcasm aside, it does bear watching.

Thompson is obviously another reason to watch, if for nothing else than to harden your maple-dicks for the league’s foremost Torontonian. Thompson has played pretty well as a rookie, putting up a 12.9 PER, showing adequate defensive awareness and basketball IQ, and throwing down some very hard dunks from time to time. His numbers don’t jump off the page, but he is worth checking out.

If we’re all being honest, we want to lose this game. The Cavaliers are example 1A of how quickly a team can go from cellar-dweller to potential East playoff team in just one draft, and while the goal is to be a conference power rather than 1st round playoff fodder, I believe the term “baby steps” applies in a rebuild. The promise of Jonas’ arrival and another lottery pick to add to the mix should have us cautiously optimistic for what next year could bring. At present time, the Raptors would be slotted to pick 4th, with an 11.9% chance of the top pick. If your curious, the chances of picking in each spot rom 1-7 are as follows, based on finishing 4th last.

1st – 11.9%
2nd – 12.6%
3rd – 13.3%
4th – 9.9%
5th – 35.1%
6th – 16.0%
7th – 1.2%

4th might be the best case scenario given the distance from 3rd-last (3.5 games), and the return of Bargs, plus the team’s improved play of late (actually a positive scoring margin over the past 10 games). Who will said lottery pick be? Well, March Madness starts up on Thursday, and that gives us all a better chance to “scout” (read: get man-crushes on) potential lottery picks. Anthony Davis is going #1, no questions asked, so focus your attention on the Harrison Barnes’, Andre Drummond’s, Thomas Robinson’s, etc (note: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is super duper serious he’s staying another year, just ask him). You’ll have to look a little further down the mock drafts to find the point guards, if that’s your fancy, and then demand the Raptors trade someone for an extra 1st rounder sometime between now and Thursday (or at the draft).

Anyway, I’ve strayed so far from actually focusing on this game that I’ll just provide the chart below, let you draw your own conclusions, and predict a 95-89 Cavaliers victory, due mostly to a rather large free throw disparity favoring the home team.

Tuesday March 13
Raptors @ Cavaliers
Record 13-28 16-23
Point Diff -4.0 -3.7
Power Rating 95.56 (24th) 95.35 (26th)
PR Predict Cavaliers -3
Off Eff 26th 21st
Def Eff 16th 21st
Pace 26th 8th
Reb Rate 14th 12th
Ast Rate 9th 21st
TO Rate 24th 19th
3PM/gm 23rd 8th
FTA/gm 21st 5th
FTA Against 29th 12th