The Toronto Raptors are playing in Cleveland on the second night of a back to back.
A statement that just as recently as last season, would induce nausea in Raps fans, could now be the punchline of a funny tweet.
But despite the competitive landscape of the Eastern Conference changing, Toronto’s goal to make the Franchise’s first ever trip to the NBA Finals has not.
The Raps and Cavs enter Monday night’s affair on opposite ends of the spectrum. Toronto is fresh off two victories that lifted them out of a mini slump, setting franchise records for fast break points and threes made in a game, respectively. Cleveland, losers of 3 of their last 4, may actually be better suited tanking from here on out, in hopes of another draft day miracle to clean up the mess left in the wake of James’ departure.
While this matchup may not be a playoff series preview like in years past, Monday night’s outcome will be paramount in deciding what the Raptors’ road to the NBA Finals will look like.
Following their victory over Miami last night, combined with Milwaukee’s defeat in San Antonio, Toronto sits 2 games back of the Bucks in the race for the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed. This positions the Raps with an uphill battle to finish the season atop the Eastern Conference, one that will require them to beat every team they should beat, in order to reach their goal.
Toronto comes in to Ohio looking to sweep the season series with the Cavaliers 4-0 for the first time since the 2000-01 season. Lowry and Co. won the previous three contests by an average of 13 points per game and will aim to keep that trend going as they lace em’ up at Quicken Loans Arena on Monday evening.
To be fair to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are sporting their worst record of the past 10 years, their team has looked better than they have all season post-All-Star break. With a 4-4 record since the All-Star festivities, that could easily be 7-1 if it weren’t for a handful fourth quarter collapses, this is not the same Cavs Team that Toronto embarrassed back in December.
Kevin Love his returned from his foot surgery and has been a huge difference maker for his team that has looked lost at times during the All-Star’s absence. Alongside the boost of having Love back in the lineup, rookie point guard Colin Sexton has been absolutely cooking lately, averaging 18.3 points over the past month and is showing a much firmer understanding of how he fits into this Cavilers offense.
On the other side of the court, Toronto is no easy matchup for this Cleveland ball club. Leonard – who is active for this evening’s matchup with a fully managed load, has torched the Cavs so far this season. The Klaw has posted averages of 31 points and 10 boards in three games against Cleveland.
Larry Drew will likely throw multiple bodies and the occasional double at the former Finals MVP, but the reality is that Cleveland doesn’t have one player capable of staying in front of Kawhi in the half court.
Nick Nurse will lead a fully manned Raptors Squad (sans FVV) into Cleveland looking to extend their current winning streak to 3 games, tinker with rotations ahead of playoffs and aim to get one step closer in their quest to sit atop the Eastern Conference throne come April 11th.
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET / 4:00 p.m. PT.
TV: TSN . Radio: Sportsnet 590 The Fan.
Kawhi’s back. Fred VanVleet continues to nurse the ligament damage to his left thumb, and is expected back in approximately 10 days.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Jeremy Lin
SG: Danny Green, Norman Powell
SF: Kawhi Leonard, Patrick McCaw, Malcolm Miller
PF: Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby
C: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Chris Boucher
OUT: Fred VanVleet
Larry Nance Jr. remains on the injury reports as he tends to a bruised chest suffered on Friday night vs Miami. Tristan Thompson is sidelined with a sore left foot, John Henson is held out with a nagging left wrist injury, and you are encouraged to reach out to RR if you know the whereabouts of J.R. Smith.
PG: Colin Sexton, Matthew Dellavedova, Brandon Knight
SG: Jordan Clarkson, Nik Stauskas, David Nwaba
SF: Cedi Osman, Deng Adel, Jarron Blossomgame
PF: Kevin Love, Marquese Chriss
C: Ante Zizic
OUT: Larry Nance Jr., Tristan Thompson, John Henson, J.R. Smith
Spread: Toronto Raptors -9.5