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Pre-game news & notes: Favored Raptors have Cavaliers’ attention

The Raptors are even slight favorites!

Toronto Raptors who are not DeMarre Carroll continued to downplay the significance of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ visit to the Air Canada Centre on Monday. Kyle Lowry said they want to be better than every team, not just the Cavs. DeMar DeRozan said it doesn’t mean anything at this juncture. Dwane Casey warns that there’s a “thin line” between “the penthouse and the outhouse,” between “killing it and getting killed,” and that “one day you are the statue, the next day you are the pigeon.”

Whether or not it matters to a great degree to the Raptors – and it may, more than they let on – it certainly seems to matter to the fan base. People seem really geeked up for this litmus test for the Raptors’ recent stretch of incredible play, made all the more interesting by the Cavs coming in with three consecutive losses. As for the Cavs’ perspective, the defending champions aren’t going to get too worried about their place in the Eastern Conference, but they’re keenly aware of the Raptors’ perch, constantly ready to take a bite at their heels if the Cavs stumble.

And hey, Casey actually admitted the game is maybe not just another random December game! The honesty!

The game tips off at 7:30p .m. on TSN 2 and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
There’s not much to report here. DeMarre Carroll will play, barring a surprise, and he’ll be the primary defender on one LeBron James. James requires far more than just one defend, and Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam, and Norman Powell could see time on him, as well. Even outside of the individual coverage, the Raptors will likely send help at James’ post-ups, then zone up around him and scramble back on to shooters, a dangerous balance to strike. Without that balance, James will either feast attacking – good though the Raptors defenders can be, there is no stopping attack-mode James – or ping passes around the perimeter to a capable fleet of shooters.

As discussed in the preview, that puts some additional pressure not just on the perimeter defenders, but on the frontcourt rotation. A hobbled Jonas Valanciunas will need to be at his best whenever the Cavs downsize to Kevin Love or Channing Frye at the five, staying with them as they pop out for threes or at least tilting the math of the size mismatch in Toronto’s favor by being a presence inside. Frye has been a Raptor killer, and Casey has the option to downsize with any two of Carroll, Patterson, and Siakam at the big positions, providing a bit more foot speed and switchability.

As always, stopping the Cavs’ offense is an impossible puzzle, but there is a lot of value in the struggle. We must imagine an exhausted, panting Carroll happy, as Camus would suggest.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: Pascal Siakam, Patrick Patterson, Bruno Caboclo
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
Assigned: None
TBD: None
OUT: Delon Wright, Jared Sullinger

Cavaliers updates
Cleveland enters a little banged up but with things trending in the right direction on the health front. J.R. Smith is dealing with some knee soreness but isn’t expected to miss the game, while Lil Dun returned to practice Sunday as he works his way through the league’s concussion protocol. It’s unclear if Dunleavy will be cleared (or used), but Smith is almost certainly going to go.

UPDATE: Both are active.

Smith is generally an underrated defender and has done a decent job on DeRozan in the past, but he’s probably not the best option over the entire game given his limitations against drive-happy players. Whether DeRozan will be that depends to a degree on how the Cavs, who have generally forced him to beat them one-on-one with very tight defense (last time, from Richard Jefferson), continues to look to facilitate or takes what the Cavs give him and works with a score-first approach. That can be fluid as the game develops, and the Cavs also have the option to throw James on him if DeRozan really heats up.

PG: Kyrie Irving, Jordan McRae, Kay Felder
SG: J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert
SF: LeBron James, Richard Jefferson, DeAndre Liggins
PF: Kevin Love, Mike Dunleavy Jr., James Jones
C: Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, Chris Andersen
Assigned: None
TBD: None
Out: Mo Williams


  • DeMar DeRozan ties Morris Peterson for the franchise’s all-time lead in games played with this one. DeRozan is now at 542 games played, and with 9,994 points scored, he’s only 281 behind Chris Bosh as the Raptors’ all-time leading scorer. He’ll pass Bosh in 10-13 games going at his recent rates (10 at his season average, 12.4 at his last 10 game average, 14 if he just averages 20), which means some time just after Christmas on that west-coast road-trip, DeRozan will be setting a new high-water mark for the organization.
  • Masai Ujiri held his third annual ‘The Giant of Africa’ event this afternoon to celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela. I wasn’t able to attend, but the annual tribute to Mandela, which included Clara Hughes among the guests this year, is always well-received, moving, and, to be quite honest, important. The use of sport to drive awareness and change and community in the world is a powerful means, and Mandela’s life is incredibly inspirational. Reading about him, hearing about his life, hearing others speak about his impact, it all really makes you want to use whatever platform you have to try to help inspire change, too.
    • The Raptors will also recognize Mandela during tonight’s game against the Cavaliers.
    • For more on Giants of Africa and Ujiri’s relationship with Mandela, I strongly recommend reading this interview he did with Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated. Ujiri is such a wonderful human being. It’s really nice to be able to root for a franchise that employs people who try to use their position and stature to inspire positive change in the world.
  • While we’re talking recommended reading, this Brian Windhorst profile on DeMar DeRozan is the latest in a long line of great pieces DeRozan has inspired this season.

The line
The Raptors opened as 1.5-point favorites, and the line spent most of the day bouncing around the push-em marker. As of right now, it’s bounced back to Raptors -1.5, with an over-under at a robust 215.5 (hard to peg down given one meeting was very low-scoring and the other was straight out of the ABA). So, there’s respect here, with the Raptors getting the slight edge from the market. That’s pretty cool, and I’d imagine it’s the first time they’ve been favored against a James-led team in some time.