Gameday: Raptors @ Cavaliers, Feb. 27

After an ugly, momentum-derailing performance at home against the Wizards that had the Raptor brass running around collecting those “Rudy Gay for MVP” t-shirts they hastily made after his Knicks effort, the Raptors (23-34) head on the road to take on the Cleveland Cavaliers (19-38). The Cavs are on the second half of a back-to-back, having posted one of the most impressive wins of their season last night – a 3 point win over a solid Chicago squad without their best player and arguably the conference’s best point guard in Kyrie Irving, who’s currently listed as day-to-day with a hyperextended knee.

Obviously, Irving’s absence, or lack thereof, is the story here – he’s truly a game changer and someone opposing teams need to carefully game plan for. Their win last night notwithstanding, the Cavs are a very offensively limited team without him, and the Raptors should have a sizeable advantage in terms of scoring punch. Of course, I said that on Monday about the Wizards game, and look what happened.

This is the third matchup of the season between these two squads, with the Raptors taking the first one comfortably and Cleveland evening the series on an Irving buzzer beater. It’s absolutely crucial that the Raptors win tonight’s rubber match – if a playoff push is in the cards, they can ill-afford losing a game to a depleted squad that’s behind them in the standings. Gun to my head, I’d say Irving won’t be in the lineup – his future’s far more important than a game against the Raptors – but he’s a gamer and I’ve certainly been very wrong before.

Let’s get to the tale of the tape:

O-Rating: Toronto 106.8 (12th), Cavaliers 106.2 (15th)
D-Rating: Toronto 107.9 (22nd), Cavaliers 110.10 (28th)
Pace: Toronto 92.5 (25th), Cavaliers 95.0 (11th)
Strength: Toronto ball control (3rd), Cavaliers forcing turnovers (6th in Opp turnovers)
Weakness: Toronto Freebies (30th in Opp FTA/FGA), Cavaliers defensive rebounding (27th)

Positional Breakdown
Point Guards: Kyle Lowry, John Lucas, and Sebastian Telfair v. Kyrie Irving(?), Shaun Livingston, and Josh Selby
Advantage: Raptors if no Irving, Cavs if Irving plays

Not much of an explanation necessary here. Kyrie is one of the league’s 15 best players, a versatile scoring threat and one of the league’s smartest ballhandlers. Oh, and he hit a dagger game-winner the last time he played the Raps. If he plays, the Cavs have the advantage, if he doesn’t, they don’t. Simple as that.

Wings: Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan, Landry Fields, Alan Anderson and Terrence Ross v. Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, C.J. Miles, Luke Walton, and Wayne Ellington
Waiters is a streaky scorer who can put up points in bunches, but if he’s your number one scoring option on the wing, you’re not going to get the “advantage” very often. Alonzo Gee is the Cavs’ only plus defender at the wing positions, so look for Gay, DeMar, and/or Alan Anderson to put a bunch of points on the board. The Raps would be wise to ride the hot hand, as Cleveland doesn’t really have an answer for their top two options as a scoring threat.

Bigs: Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas, Andrea Bargnani, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy v. Tyler Zeller, Tristan Thompson, Marreese Speights, and Kevin Jones
It’s been nice watching the continued improvement of Canadian Tristan Thompson, who’s averaging close to a double-double and could become half of a dynamic frontcourt with Anderson Varejao next season. The Cavaliers’ bigs as a hole are an underrated (if understaffed) bunch – Zeller has developed more quickly than expected, and Speights is a solid rotation big – but the Raptors get the advantage here due to depth and offensive versatility. Jonas vs. Thompson should be an interesting matchup, if only to see last years’ number 4 and 5 picks battling one another.

The Picks

Vegas: Raptors -1.5
Hollinger: Cavs -1
Garrett: Tough to make a prediction when you don’t know if Kyrie Irving will play or not, but the Raptors showed enough fight in their matchup with the Cavs that I’m feeling a bounce back win either way. If Kyrie plays, Raps by 2. If he doesn’t, Raps by 10.

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