This season has been a weirdly streaky one for the Toronto Raptors. They set the tone early on in the year, opening the season with a five game winning streak and immediately following it up with a three game slide. What's followed has been more of the same: outside of the 11 game winning streak that serves as the backbone of their 38-18 record, the Raptors have managed separate winning streaks of three, three, four, four and five games so far. They've also lost back-to-back games on six occasions, twice extending those to three game losing streaks.
It's been a weird, wild ride and I never want it to stop.
Toronto takes on the first place Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night, looking to push their latest streak to four wins.
Here are your keys to the game.
Speed and Accuracy
Hey, slow is a speed too.
Despite Coach Tyronn Lue's public wish to play at a faster pace, the Cavaliers still rank 28th in the NBA in possessions, at 95.24 per 48 minutes on the season. In the 15 games since Lue took over they're averaging a much speedier... 95.76 possessions per 48 minutes. A half possession per game! Revolutionary. They've also played to an 11-4 record, or roughly an identical winning percentage as they had under Coach David Blatt. You can't make this stuff up.
The Raptors aren't much quicker though, ranking 26th in possessions per 48, and neither team allows many points in the paint (PITP). Cleveland and Toronto sit deadlocked, allowing opponents to score 39.5 PITP per 48, tied for 4th best in the NBA.
What that means is that this is likely to be a slow down affair determined by outside shooting, as both previous games this season were. In the November 25th match-up, a four point Toronto victory, the Raptors shot a 44% clip from deep, while Cleveland was slightly better at 48.8%. In the January 4th rematch, Toronto slipped slightly to 42%, while Cleveland dialed things up to a scorching 51.2%, making 17 of 33 from beyond the arc and blowing the Raptors out 122-100.
It Takes Two, Baby
LeBron James was steady, if not spectacular (for him) in both games against Toronto, and the 'good' J.R. Smith showed up twice for the Cavs, burying 11 triples in the two contests.
But the primary difference makers for Cleveland? The twosome of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
Love has taken his lumps this year but he's posted a 17.5/11/2.0 (PTS/REB/AST) line against Toronto and shot 7 for 13 from three in the two games.
Irving played only the second game and made a huge difference, carving up the Raptors for 25/6/8 in the January 4th game, nailing a pair of threes and posting a team high +22 in just 28:44 minutes of floor time.
So uh, yeah. Try and stop these guys, guys!
Take Care of Number One
Finally, this game is huge for both teams, as it could determine the Eastern Conference's number one seed when all is said and done. I detailed the Raptors quest for top spot here, but as a quick refresher: Toronto currently sits three games behind Cleveland, and both teams have 26 games to play. Toronto has 15 home games remaining, while Cleveland has only 12. Neither team has a gauntlet ahead of it, but Toronto's schedule is slightly easier, so taking this tiebreaker would be big for the Raps.
Where to Watch: Sportsnet One, 7:30pm EST