After losing a close, nail-biting game against the Chicago Bulls, the Toronto Raptors hope to shake off that loss as they host the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight at the Air Canada Centre.
In their first meeting of the season, the Raps will take on a lowly Cavs team in what will be the first of three matchups between both ball clubs. The Cavaliers, who managed to land themselves on a 6 game winning streak, currently hold the 11th seed in a weakened Eastern Conference, as they sit behind the Detroit Pistons.
After trading three future draft picks and Andrew Bynum -- Bynum was as expected waived by the Chicago Bulls in efforts to clear cap space -- for former Bull and NBA All-Star Luol Deng, it seem like the franchise would get back on track.
As most would've imagined, Deng was supposed to be the go-to-guy and save this team however the Cavs, like the Philadelphia 76ers, continued to regress and spiral down an unforeseen future. After five straight double-digits loses, one of which came against a Los Angeles Lakers squad who had only eight healthy bodies, general manager Chris Grant's position with the team was abruptly terminated. And of course, through all of this, 2013 number one overall pick Anthony Bennett, hasn't exactly lived up to expectations.
Despite all these woes and inconveniences, going into the all-star break, the Cavs managed to win four games in a row and finally saw glimpse of what seemed to be an emergence from Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, and yes, Anthony Bennett. Yet still, it's unclear what exactly the Cavs are doing. Yesterday they dealt for Spencer Hawes but one wonders if like Deng, that's a short-term solution that doesn't exactly lead to long-term results.
Regardless of Cleveland's recent success, this game should be easily winnable for the Raps. Here are our three keys:
1) Make Kyrie Irving shoot contested shots:
After winning the NBA All-Star MVP trophy the previous weekend in New Orleans, it's evident Kyrie Irving, just like John Wall and Derrick Rose, will be one of the best guards in the near future. While Irving likes to attack the rim first -- making a league average 52.67 percent of his shots from there -- he's able knock down his jump shots.
This is why Lowry and Vasquez need to play tight defense on him at all times, especially at the top of the key where Irving excels. According to NBA.com, from 8 to 16 feet on the left side, Irving makes 47.83 percent of his shots. From 16-24 feet, he makes 45.83 percent of his shots. From the top of the key, 24 feet out, he makes 44.74 percent of his shots. All of these are above league averages.
However Lowry and Vasquez may be flexible and leave some room at the right baseline as Irving has been shooting below league average from the corner three, at 23.08 percent, and shooting 27.16 percent from the right center. Better he shoot uncontested from the right than any other area. Have him shoot with a hand in his face instead of attacking the rim and they should be well off.
2) Get Tristan Thompson off the glass:
Tristan Thompson is a great rebounder continues to improve as a defender. In the 55 games he played this season, Thompson averages 9.6 rebounds per game. However in Wednesday night's game against the Orlando Magic, he grabbed a total 14 rebounds, 13 of which enabled the Cavs to get second chance points. Jonas Valancuinas and Amir Johnson will need to stick on him at all times. With a man on him, he was only able to get 3.9 rebounds per game, however with nobody near him he gets 6.2 rebounds. (Which seems fairly obvious.) Keep Thompson and the Cavs' bigs in check, and the Raps likely leave the arena with a win.
3) Get in the painted area:
The Raps trio of Terrence Ross, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry like to attack the rim. However as we saw last game against the Bulls, Toronto was fairly tentative in this respect until late in the game. Against Cleveland, the club needs to return to attacking methodology as one of the Cavs biggest weaknesses lies within the painted area. The Cavs currently rank 27th in opposing field goal percentage and have not defended the paint well this season. In fact, they are allowing the opposition to hit 63 percent in the restricted area so settling for long-range jump shots tonight just isn't a option for Toronto. The Raps need to attack the paint and exploit Cleveland in this area in order to grab a W.