Game one was a slice, but the Toronto Raptors’ second game of the season should pose a significantly bigger challenge. The Cleveland Cavaliers are the reigning champions, bringing back essentially the same lineup that sent the Raptors home in the Eastern Conference Finals last season. After a confident opening win, this is the Raptors’ chance to show they really mean business. Or, this could be the time they show just how far away they are from contention.
Popular knowledge says the Cavs are in a class of their own in the East. The Raptors are seen to be squarely in the second tier, where good — certainly not great — teams belong. A single early season win wouldn’t change that perception entirely, but it might be a start. And, in a pragmatic sense, every win counts, especially for a team coming off three consecutive seasons of breaking the franchise record for wins.
Here are three things to watch when the Raptors look to dethrone King James in Toronto.
DeMar DeRozan, MVP
It has just been one game, but DeRozan has the fans excited. Against Detroit, he put up 40 points, the most ever by a Raptor on opening night. More than just his stats, DeRozan looked confident and aggressive on the court, finishing comfortably at the rim several times after absorbing contact. If he can be an even more consistent slasher than he has been the past few seasons, and continue to hit his mid-range jumpers, this could be a massive season for the team’s offence.
Against the Cavs, he should face better, more organized defence. When he has guys like J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert (and occasionally LeBron James) going after him, DeRozan needs to stay confident and continue to drive to the hoop. If he gets to the line early and often, the Raptors will have a good chance of surviving the Cavs.
LeBron James, passing magician
Against the New York Knicks, LBJ put up 14 assists, which shows that he can truly do whatever he wants. If he wanted to score 30, I’m sure he could have, but instead, he chose to help Kyrie Irving get hot and start his campaign with a 29-point showing. James really is the NBA’s most complete player, which is always scary for his opposition. Especially late in a game, he will do whatever it takes to get the Cavs over the hump.
For the Raptors the key should be shutting down James off the drive. If he wants to take 10 open three-pointers and go for 20 assists, that’s fine. What the Raptors can’t allow, is easy points at the rim. With a superstar, you have to pick your poison, and I would much rather see James pass and shoot from range.
Jonas Valanciunas might actually be good
JV has been okay for a couple of years now, but never really good. On opening night, he arrived, putting up 32 points and 11 rebounds. Obviously, every night won’t be that impressive, but it’s a great start. The test now is what he can do against better teams, though the Cavs, with Tristan Thompson at centre, aren’t particularly huge in the middle. Still, it’s worth watching whether Valanciunas can replicate, or if his 30-plus-point outburst was an anomaly.
Also, Valanciunas’ patented (and terrible) pump fake seemed to finally work against the Pistons, so either (a) he is making it more convincing, or (b) they forgot about his only move over the summer. The answer probably isn’t (a), but I have been surprised before.
Where to Watch: 7:00pm, Sportsnet ONE