There are a handful of moments in a given team's NBA season that feel like the inevitable result of momentum building up to a single culminating point. (And sometimes, vice versa, into a rock bottom terminus.) The Raptors' dispatch of the Hawks on Saturday night? A disaster for Atlanta, which may very well have them questioning their existence today. But for Toronto: a six-game win streak, an awesome offense, and a defense coming into sharp relief. What better conditions are necessary, then, to welcome the big man, LeBron James into town?
The Cleveland Cavaliers are the de facto Eastern Conference champs. No team in the East can truly hope to compete with them over 82 games, and certainly no team in the East could best them four times out of seven in the playoffs. But here in Toronto, amongst the Raptors, there is hope.
As we've documented here, the Raptors have being flashing their true colours as of late. The shooting has been off the charts. The defense, still down in the bottom half of the league rating-wise, has been fearsome over this six-game stretch. And while coach Dwane Casey is quick to say nothing has changed -- he'll always say it's a make or miss league -- the Raptors are definitely playing with extreme confidence right now.
For the Raptors to win, here's what needs to go right:
- The Raptors' long range shooting has to stay hot. If Cleveland throws double teams at DeMar DeRozan, they need production from Patrick Patterson, Terrence Ross and DeMarre Carroll.
- The bigs have to play big, but each in their own way. The Raptors need Jonas Valanciunas to punish the Cavs in the post, and they need Lucas Nogueira to keep up with the eventual five-out attack that Cleveland will roll out.
- The Raptors' defense, which has gradually been rounding into form, must be in top shape tonight. In Cleveland, the Raptors had a lead in the fourth and, as Casey mentioned pre-game, were a few mental mistakes away from a win. The great teams pounce on mistakes.
- This is a small (and obvious) detail but it bears mentioning: the Raptors just have to play there game. They've been here before, they've won in this situation before, and there's no reason they can't do it again.
These facts are all probably self-evident -- that's how close these teams are at this given moment. If the Raptors execute more times than the Cavaliers, they'll win. Yes, LeBron is LeBron, but the Raptors are the Raptors. And you know what? Today that counts for something.
Now read the preview from Kevin Nimmock and get in the comments. Let's have some fun.