Coming off of a great team win against the Orlando Magic on Sunday, the Toronto Raptors look to move seven games over .500 on the season. That mark would be a first for them in six years. Luckily for the Raptors, this game against the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight looks to be an easy win on paper.
In the Raptors' previous game against the Magic, they were led by Kyle Lowry who scored 28 points and added 6 assists and 4 rebounds. He had another strong outing, continuing to confuse fans as to why he wasn't named an All-Star. DeMar DeRozan also netted 24 points and Terrence Ross added 16, the game ending in a 105-90 win for the Dinos.
In their last outing against the Cavaliers, which happened last Friday, the Raptors came out with a 98-91 win. The loss for the Cavs snapped their season-long six-game winning streak. In that game, Terrence Ross scored a total of 20 points and Jonas Valanciunas had 18 points. Things came alive for them in the third quarter when they outscored the Cavs 37-21, leaving F Tristan Thompson to say "We came out very soft and stagnant. We didn't make it tough for them on the offensive end."
Cavs All-Star Kyrie Irving only shot 3 of 16 from the field against the Raptors and only 6 of 17 on Sunday against the Wizards, netting 17 points and 15 points respectively. In those two losses, he shot 2 for 11 from long range. People are lost on his game after he had an amazing showing during the All-Star game in New Orleans, where he ended up winning MVP of that game, and putting on a solid show in the three-point shooting contest.
In addition to their poor shooting, only 38.8% from the field in their last two losses, the Cavs are also facing major injury problems. They will continue to play short-handed against the Raptors, missing three of their top six scorers in Anderson Varejao (sore back), Dion Waiters (hyperextended knee) and C.J. Miles (sprained ankle).
Toronto may be playing without their starting forward Amir Johnson who sprained his right ankle last game against the Orlando Magic. He posted 12 points and added 8 rebounds before leaving that game.
As the Toronto Raptors look to win their seventh of their last eight games, here are the three keys to the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers:
1) Keep Up the Defensive Effort
In their past five games, the Toronto Raptors have allowed their opponents to score only 90.2 points per game. That mark is 6.3 points per game below their season average. They held the Cavs to 39.0% from the field Friday and limited Orlando to 41.4% from the field on Sunday. Going up against a struggling offense in Cleveland, those numbers should repeat themselves with the same effort given lately.
Although Kyrie Irving can get hot quickly and Luol Deng is extremely consistent with his jump shot, if you force them to take contested shots you will see those shots start to miss. Irving likes to attack the rim and has been getting his points from the free throw line lately. Stay smart on defense, don't let them get you in foul trouble, contest their shots and keep them outside if you want to see another low shooting percentage. Irving showcased his ability to score and assist in the All-Star game, so don't underestimate him for his poor play as of late.
2) Hold Onto the Ball
In their previous game against the Magic, the Raptors gave up 14 turnovers. This was an area the club struggled with early in the season giving easy baskets to their opponents, but cleaned up post-Rudy Gay. Let's hope this isn't the return as turnovers often, points off turnovers and points in transition can be the difference between a win and a loss. The Magic scored 12 fast break points against the Dinos on Sunday and although Toronto ended up with the win, those mistakes could've easily came back to bite them.
Let's hope the Raptors keep things simple tonight and not try to make the "fancy play" as opposed to the correct one, something they're often guilty of doing against lesser foes. (See recent loss to the Lakers.)
3) Let Lowry Lead You
It's been said a hundred times but PG Kyle Lowry has really stepped up his game this season. In his last ten games, he has averaged 18.2 points per game, 5.2 rebounds per game and 7.9 assists per game. He has also added 1.4 steals per game and shot the ball fairly well.
Therefore one of the big keys again tonight is his play, especially if he's aggressive going to the hoop. Not only does it open up opportunities for teammates, but it allows the possibility for free throws. Free throws are a win-win situation for this Raptors' team which is shooting 78 per cent on the season, a top 10 mark in the league. Plus, beyond a chance for some free, easy points, but it helps put the opposing team in foul trouble. Some key players that would be good to see sitting early would include like Cavs' "bigs," like Tristan Thompson and of course, Kyrie Irving.