Fan Duel Toronto Raptors

Gameday: Raptors @ Cavaliers, March 21

Tired vs. Injured. Who you got?

The Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers have seen a great deal of each other the last two seasons. If things go as either team hopes, they’ll meet in the postseason for a third consecutive year sometime this May. If they do, there won’t be a great deal of regular season data to extrapolate from when lining up the sides – Toronto obliterated Cleveland earlier in the year, the Cavaliers completely overhauled their roster since, and when they meet for a second time on Wednesday, the Cavs will be woefully thinned out while the Raptors are on full “schedule alert” thanks to a ludicrously compressed schedule of late.

This does not mean there is not value, meaning, or fun in the meeting. Of course the Raptors are going to get up to play LeBron James and company, and there’s always plenty to learn about how you’re best equipped to try to slow James down. OG Anunoby got the primary nod last time out and figures to again here, though with James playing in the frontcourt more out of necessity, Serge Ibaka will see time, too. Perhaps most interesting is the chance for Pascal Siakam to get a crack at the assignment off the bench. Meanwhile, the Raptors’ frontcourt can see how it handles Kevin Love, one of the few big men left who profile as the type to give the tweaked system (and improved centers) trouble.

Cleveland should also be hungry, even if they’re thin on bodies. The Cavs are fighting to hold on for home court in the first round, winning three of their last four to (slightly) maintain a grip on the third seed. (Cleveland in the third spot is probably the outcome both they and Toronto prefer, by the way. That probably doesn’t meant the Raptors “tank” here, conspiracy theorists. OR MAYBE.) The Cavs should also want some modicum of payback after the Raptors embarrassed them in January to the tune of 133-99, although four of the Cavs from that rotation have since been dealt.

Even if there doesn’t figure to be a lot that can be taken from this one and applied directly to a playoff series given each sides’ circumstances, it should be a fun one. It’s Raptors-Cavaliers and it’s not a road playoff game, of course it’ll be fun.

The game tips off at 7 on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050.

To help set the stage, we reached out to Justin Rowan of The Chase Down Podcast, who was kind enough to help us out, which I assume means he’s up to something, as I do not trust his intentions.

Blake Murphy: The big news around the Cavaliers right now is Tyronn Lue stepping away due to health reasons, something that’s reportedly been going on for some time and Lue tried to fight through to maintain some stability around the team. Here’s hoping for a quick recovery. That job sounds impossible at times, between the stress and the pressure and the sleep, and everything else that comes along with it. Really hope he’s feeling better soon. Not to be insensitive, but do you see this having any tangible impact on the team, positive or negative?

Justin Rowan: I don’t see it having a tangible impact in the short-term. There’s still hope that he will return after a week or so off, and all of the coordinators are still in place. Larry Drew is consulting Lue on lineup decisions as well, so I don’t think they’ll try and reinvent the wheel in his absence.

Blake Murphy: The Cavs have been so banged up that LeBron James was the de facto center for like 40 minutes the other week. Unless you prefer to call Jeff Green the center. Either way. The Cavs signed Anyone Over 6’6″ to a 10-day contract this week for help (Okaro White, to be specific), which is something, but obviously it’s Kevin Love’s return Monday that really helps with the depth issues. How big will it be not just to get Love back early enough to find some chemistry but also just to have a plausible center on the roster?

Justin Rowan: I see you aren’t respecting the next Hakeem, Ante Zizic. In all seriousness, having Love back is massive for this team. Having someone that can reduce the load on LeBron James is something they just haven’t had consistently. In addition to that, it helps slide everybody back into a more natural role once everyone is healthy. I’m not sure how much longer it’ll be until Larry Nance Jr. is available to take over the starting center role, but having Love there instead of Jeff Green or Zizic in the meantime is obviously helpful.

Blake Murphy: Cleveland is still woefully thin, even with Love and Kyle Korver back. Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., Cedi Osman, and Tristan Thompson all remain on the injury report, and that’s to say nothing of any limitations or restrictions for Love/Korver. Just how worrisome is it that a team that had so much roster upheaval won’t have significant time as a #FullSquad ahead of the playoffs?

Justin Rowan: Very worrisome. Even if they have everybody available, the amount of time left in the season to figure out how to play with one another is running short. It’s part of why I would rather see the Cavs hold on to the third seed, rather than face the Raptors in the second round. They need as much time as possible to prepare for their inevitable test in the playoffs.

Blake Murphy: Speaking of the playoffs, Cleveland is doing just enough to hang around the home-court advantage cut-off. If nothing else, it currently looks likely that they’ll fall in the 3-6 range. Is there a preferred landing spot for them, in your mind? Is the hope to avoid Toronto as long as possible? (VALIDATE US) To avoid Boston as long as possible? (HOW DARE) Or do they even care?

Justin Rowan: I guess I already somewhat answered that question. I think the Raptors should be the favourite to come out of the Eastern Conference, and are the only legitimate threat to the Cavs given how banged up Boston is. I’m not convinced Boston will make it out of the first round, especially if Kyrie Irving isn’t right. So avoiding Toronto by getting either the 3 or 6 seed would be ideal. My preference would, of course, be to get homecourt. With Love back and the rest of the roster nearing return, I feel okay about their chances of hanging on to the third seed.

Blake Murphy: Were everyone healthy, this entire thing would have been Nance and Cedi questions. Love those guys. Assuming everyone is available for the playoffs, what do you think a nine-man Cavaliers rotation would look like?

Justin Rowan: I think the ideal rotation is a starting lineup of Hill, Hood, LeBron, Love and Nance. Off the bench you’ll see Clarkson, Smith, Korver, Osman, and Thompson. Jeff Green may see minutes based on matchup, or if Osman is struggling. Zizic may even see a few minutes, given his recent play, if they are in need of size. But that should be the core of a potential playoff rotation.

Raptors updates
Toronto is playing their 10th game in 16 nights, and signs of fatigue are fairly apparent. Kyle Lowry got a game off last week, DeMar DeRozan rested a thigh contusion on Tuesday, and others – Serge Ibaka, Jakob Poeltl, even OG Anunoby still – looked a bit worn out against the Magic. A back-to-back and fifth-in-seven would seem a logical time to sit another piece down for a breather, but it’s the Cavaliers, and the Raptors may want to have a full contingent available to test themselves and experiment with how certain lineups or schemes work out. That Ibaka and Poeltl seem the likeliest rest candidates and are also paramount to this matchup exacerbates that.

The team hasn’t updated their injury notes yet, but Fred VanVleet figures to once again be questionable with a right hand contusion. Delon Wright has taken on a larger role admirably with VanVleet down the last two games, which should surprise nobody. Still, the second unit can really use VanVleet’s composure and ability to run them through continuity sets when spacing is tight or C.J. Miles’ shot isn’t dropping. It sounded yesterday like he was nearing a return, so maybe he’ll get the go-ahead nod here.

PG: Kyle Lowry, (Fred VanVleet), Delon Wright, Lorenzo Brown
SG: (DeMar DeRozan), Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles, Malcolm Miller
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: None
TBD: Fred VanVleet, DeMar DeRozan
905: Malachi Richardson, Alfonzo McKinnie, Nigel Hayes

Cavaliers updates
Cleveland comes in very banged up here. Larry Nance is out with a right hamstring injury and Cedi Osman is out with a left hip strain. Cavaliers beat reporters were calling Rodney Hood (back strain) and Tristan Thompson (ankle sprain) questionable but they’re both listed on the injury report as out, as well, so who knows. Kyle Korver is also away from the team due to the death of his brothers (thoughts with him). And of course, Ty Lue is away from the team for health reasons.

That all makes it pretty hard to gauge how things may look here, even with Kevin Love back, capable of soaking up the center minutes, and presenting a real challenge to Toronto’s centers. Okaro White has been signed to a 10-day deal and London Perrantes and John Holland will likely be up from Canton so that Larry Drew has something resembling a rotation to lean on. Everything still orbits around LeBron James, and there’s a bit of stability with Love back, George Hill around, and Jordan Clarkson looking comfortable. The Cavs do not, however, figure to have a five-man lineup available that’s played more than 14 (!) minutes together before. Everything is new and on the fly. And still, they’re dangerous, at least offensively.

PG: George Hill, Jose Calderon, London Perrantes
SG: J.R. Smith, Jordan Clarkson
SF: Jeff Green, John Holland
PF: LeBron James, Okaro White
C: Kevin Love, Ante Zizic
OUT: Cedi Osman, Larry Nance
TBD: Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood
Canton: None

The line
The game is off the board as of this writing.