Toronto looks to continue its longest (and only) winning streak of the season as the team travels to Quicken Loans Arena to do battle with Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The HQ's Christopher Walder takes a look at tonight's action.
You can't spell "Raptors" without "Parts".
"Parts" meaning "the sum of all parts".
That's exactly how the Toronto Raptors have been winning basketball games as of late. With both Andrea Bargnani and Kyle Lowry (the team's two leading scorers) siting idly on the bench nursing injuries, the remaining players have banded together and played strong, unified team basketball in their absence.
Last Sunday's 103-96 victory over James Harden and the Houston Rockets was proof in the pudding, as the Raptors dished out 29 assists in comparison to just 7 turnovers. Jose Calderon led the way with a triple-double of 18 points, 14 assists (0 turnovers) and 10 rebounds.
Ed Davis has also played a pivotal role in the Raptors recent success, scoring 43 points and grabbing 26 rebounds since Andrea went down with an injury. This recent play has given Davis a boost of confidence that was surely needed, especially with his role growing and growing as the season progresses.
Toronto is looking to avoid their first 12-game road losing streak since 2011 when the team lost 14 in a row between January 6th and March 16. Their last win away from the Air Canada Centre was back on November 12th against the Indiana Pacers.
The Cleveland Cavaliers currently find themselves tied for last in the Eastern Conference with a record of 5-20.Rookie Dion Waiters, who has missed some time with a sprained left ankle, is expected to make his return Tuesday night for the Cavaliers.
The role he will find himself in when he returns will depend on the continued production of one C.J Miles, who has started in his place. In the past four games, Miles has hit 17 three-pointers and is averaging 22.4 points per game.
Momentum is such a valuable, yet fragile force in the NBA. It can come and go with something as miniscule as a uninspired, unforgettable performance on the road. The Raptors need to continue to build as much momentum as possible, especially during a stretch of games this against sub .500 teams.
It won't be easy, but if Toronto can string together a few wins here and there over these winter months......well, optimism may soon return to the confines of the ACC.
As always, here is the "TRIPLE W: WALDER'S WINNING WAYS"
1) Continued Emphasis On Defense
Over the past four games, Toronto has allowed 96 or fewer points to their opponents. In four December games prior to that stretch, the team was allowing over 102.0 a game.
The Cavaliers as a team only average 94.0 points a night, which is 23rd in the association. With the return of Dion Waiters and a healthy Kyrie Irving back in the lineup as of last Tuesday, Cleveland's offense will certainly be more potent, and not to be underestimated.
Cleveland also turns the ball over 15 times a game, which is ninth from the bottom in the NBA and just 1.2 away from being the worst of the worst. Opportunities will be there to force the Cavs into making bad decisions and possibly coughing up the ball.
2) Keep Anderson Varejao Off Of The Glass
Easier said than done.
Varejao currently leads the NBA in rebounds per game (14.6, 1.9 ahead of second place) and offensive boards (5.6).
With his early-season numbers being one of the big stories coming out of Cleveland this year, perhaps the time is near for the Cavs to possibly deal Anderson while his value is at its highest (subject of many trade rumours).
Unfortunately for the Raptors, that potential trade won't be occurring tomorrow. Trying to outmuscle and box out the 6'11, 260 pound center from Brazil will be no simple task.
3) Contain Uncle Dr.....I mean Kyrie Irving
It's clear as day how important Irving is to the long-term success of this franchise. The Cavaliers were a completely different basketball team without their floor general and reigning Rookie of the Year controlling the pace and flow of games.
Irving, who will now play with a Kobe Bryant/Richard Hamilton-esque mask after breaking a bone in his face Friday night against the Milwaukee Bucks, is coming off a career-high 41 points in Saturdays loss to the New York Knicks.
The defensive assignment would perhaps be a tad smoother if Lowry were healthy, but now all faith shall be put in Jose Calderon as he attempts to slow down Irving as much as possible.
To see what kind of impact Kyrie really has, the Cavaliers average 101.4 points when he's on the court, and just 87.3 when he's sitting on the sidelines. The +/- of the team also drops 7.8 points in those situations.
If Irving is a non-factor in this game, victory will be a heck of a lot easier to achieve.