It's got to be one of the top five or ten cliches in sports -- just one game of 82. The Raptors are playing in game two of the regular season today, which is in fact just one of 82, as they'll be quick to remind. But said game is against the Cleveland Cavaliers and their God King, LeBron James. There are more than a few reasons why this is more than just any old game.
Last season, the Raptors kicked and clawed their way to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they were summarily dismissed by the eventual champion Cavaliers. (This, despite two nice hometown wins in Toronto.) Despite the ultimate outcome, it is not hyperbole to say it was the most amazing moment in the history of the Raptors franchise. And this season, as with pretty much every season, the path to the title again goes through Cleveland.
To attempt to slow LeBron at this point is folly. You need to employ a man like DeMarre Carroll, who has yet to face him at peak health. Eric Koreen at the Athletic had some thoughts on this today, and it bears repeating, but DC is only part of the equation. Downing LeBron also requires elite level rim protection, which few teams have -- and the Raptors, after losing Bismack Biyombo, decidedly do not have.
The Raptors enter this game again looking to count on contributions from rookies Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl. Sullinger remains out, Lucas Nogueira sounds extremely doubtful, and that's essentially where the Raptors' options end. Ideally, Jonas Valanciunas, fresh off a Godzilla-esque devastation event against Detroit, will repeat his efforts against the Cavaliers small front line of Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love, and the always present James. (The Raptors' nightmare Channing Frye is off from the team dealing with the death of his mother. We wish him well.)
So expect LeBron to go to work, is what I'm saying. But what I'm really wondering is what kind of game we'll see from DeMar DeRozan. He dropped 40 while on a picnic against the Pistons, and tonight's defensive matchups -- namely J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert (recently cleared to play) -- should be just as easy for DD to exploit. There is not a world in the cosmos in which Smith has the mental fortitude to deal with DeRozan's next level confidence right now. Should be fun.
So that's pretty much it. Oh yeah, and hopefully Kyle Lowry gets back to bombing threes at a high rate. He shot 3-for-13 last game and while Lowry is, in his own way, something like LeBron from an impact standpoint (e.g. directing and shaping the team's destiny even without scoring), it would be nice if he, uh, scored the basketball too. Still, it is just one of 82.
Read Kevin Nimmock's preview for tonight's game here. Then settle in and watch along with us.