For the first time all season, we can officially say the Toronto Raptors are in a funk. They’ve posted a 3-4 record in their last 7 games. Before that? An 11-game win streak and victories in 20 of their last 22 games. Let’s clear up some common misconceptions while we can. Is it fatigue plaguing this team? Arguable. Save for his rookie season where he played a mere 21.6 minutes per game, DeMar DeRozan is currently playing a career-low 34.1 mpg. Kyle Lowry, on the other hand is only at 32.3 mpg — his lowest average in the last five seasons. The stars are rested, Ibaka has gotten his fair share of maintenance days, Valanciunas — on what may be a career-best season — is at a career-low 22.5 mpg. Again, you could make an argument it’s game #77 and the duration of the season has caught up with players, but a brief look around the league will show that other teams are heating up in very similar circumstances. Is it health issues? Nope. Toronto has relatively been one of the healthiest teams all season. Lowry and DeRozan have gotten dinged up here and there, but overall have looked fresh since October. Ibaka has an ongoing knee issue that the Raptors have handled well thus far. Anunoby is showing zero signs of knee trouble, after tearing his ACL last January. Wright separated his shoulder in November, but was back almost exactly a month later. CJ Miles has missed some games for a multitude of reasons ranging from dental work, to the birth of a child, to numerous illnesses. In other words, nothing to be worried about. Other than that, the rest of the bench mob have been in good health.
A lot of what seems to be hampering the Toronto Raptors at this point in the season seems to be a lack of intensity on both ends of the floor coupled with poor play from the usually-reliable starting five. My colleague, Josh Weinstein recently went into depth on the Raptors recent trials and tribulations.
To be frank, it’s probably not the best time of the year for the Raptors to matchup against the LeBron-led Cleveland Cavaliers (twice within a two-week span). They lost the first matchup on March 21st in an absolute shootout that saw Toronto falter late — ultimately losing 132-129. LeBron James recorded one of his best statistical lines of the season — and maybe of his career. It was a magical 35 points, 17 assists, 7 rebounds and 0 (!!!) turnovers. For a guy who seemed to have the ball on every possession in the final frame, how he finished with as much turnovers as I did is totally beyond me.
That was it. That was the game where every Raptors fan’s deepest worries came to complete fruition. Throughout this historic season for Toronto, there’s been that simmering, underlying anxiety that nobody except the fanbases’ masochists wanted to mention. The Raptors and their fans were on a euphoric high all season long, the Cavaliers were on a low, the Celtics were battered with injuries, the rest of the Eastern Conference was inconsistent as heck. Everyone enjoyed it, celebrated the big wins and marveled at the incredible development of the roster. Creeping behind all those joyous thoughts was the grim possibility of a date with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs. March 21st was a reality-check for the Raptors as much it was a learning experience. By all means, this is in no way a premature cede of defeat to the Cavaliers, but if any fanbase in the NBA is aware of what LeBron’s greatest capabilities are, it’s the Toronto Raptors. According to basketball-reference.com, LeBron James all-time numbers versus the Raptors are as follows:
Regular season: 27.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 7.8 apg on 51% FG, 31% 3PT and an astounding 123 offensive rating (second highest career-rating versus any team in the NBA), 40-9 record.
Playoffs: 30.0 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 6.1 apg on 60% FG, 40% 3PT, 8-2 record.
If that doesn’t spell out the word ‘dominance’ for you, I genuinely do not know what does.
For this specific game, the stakes are high. The Raptors don’t want to lose two games in just 12 days to the same team — especially when that team happens to be the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The game tips off at 7:00pm ET on TSN 4/5 and TSN Radio 1050.
Toronto is coming off a disappointing loss to the Boston Celtics where Kyrie Irving (knee soreness), Marcus Smart (right thumb) and obviously, Gordon Hayward (season-long knee injury) were all out with injuries. It’s an important game for Toronto as they look to create momentum heading into their “second leg” with the Celtics just 24 hours after the Cavs matchup, this time back home in the Air Canada Centre. Technically for the Celtics, the #1 seed is still in play — however they must essentially win out the rest of the season and hope for Toronto to stumble even further. With a win versus the Celtics on Wednesday, the first seed is all but locked up for Toronto. With that being said, the chances Toronto bumps into Cleveland in the playoffs also drastically increases.
I love throwing these cool little tidbits in where I can fit them. Your Toronto Raptors, who we habitually complain about not receiving enough ‘American’ attention — got a Simpsons shoutout.
No, seriously. Take a look:
The Toronto Raptors got a Simpsons shoutout. We can never complain about American coverage again. pic.twitter.com/8WuBoBITBH
— Faizal Khamisa (@SNFaizalKhamisa) April 2, 2018
To keep it short and sweet, Toronto’s fully healthy for this one. It’s all hands on deck for this Cavaliers showdown.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Alfonzo McKinnie
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
905: Lorenzo Brown, Malcolm Miller
Cleveland is coming off a tidy Easter Sunday win versus the Dallas Mavericks — as they’ve now won eight of their last nine contests. LeBron James has been on a wreck, Kevin Love looks fully healthy as he made his return back from injury in mid-March. JR Smith, Jordan Clarkson and Kyle Korver have all taken turns dismantling opposing teams.
On the rough side for Cleveland, minor injuries have been filling up their team injury report to the brim. Kevin Love (concussion), George Hill (left ankle), JR Smith (undisclosed), Kyle Korver (foot) have all been listed as recently as this past week.
Also, the Cavaliers seem to be having a lot of fun while they’ve been hot recently:
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) April 1, 2018
PG: Jose Calderon, London Perrantes
SG: J.R. Smith, Jordan Clarkson
SF: LeBron James, Jeff Green, John Holland
PF: Kevin Love, Okaro White
C: Tristan Thompson, Larry Nance, Ante Zizic
TBD: Kyle Korver, George Hill
The game is off the board as of this writing.