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Raptors take on the Cavaliers in second game of the season series: Preview, start time, and more

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Winners of 12 of their last 13 games, Toronto will complete this stretch of three games in four nights with a visit to Cleveland to take on the Cavaliers.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Toronto Raptors Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The last time these two teams met, back on January 11, the Raptors dominated the Cavaliers in every aspect of the game, winning 133-99. That was just one of the many blowout games that followed for both teams, and eventually resulted in the Cavaliers making major roster changes at the trade deadline.

Led by LeBron James, the acquisitions of George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood, and Larry Nance Jr. have slightly improved the Cavs’ offense in both scoring and rating. But their issues on defense remain. They’re still allowing 110.9 points per game and their defensive rating has barely improved, going from 109.9 to 109.5, post-deadline, good for 28th in the league. On top of this, Cleveland has been plagued with injuries, so it remains to be seen what kind of team they actually have when healthy.

Meanwhile, in last night’s game against the Orlando Magic, the Raptors were without DeMar DeRozan, who missed his first game of the season due to a left-thigh contusion. They were also without Fred VanVleet, as he missed his second straight game nursing a right-hand contusion. That said, expect DeRozan to play against the Cavaliers tonight.

The Raptors come into Cleveland, winners of 12 of their last 13 games, and comfortably in first place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 53-18. Last night, they dispatched the Magic with, essentially, one good quarter of basketball.

The Cavaliers are on a two-game win streak and are in the middle of a three-game home-stand. Through all the changes to the roster and other off-court drama, LeBron has the Cavaliers at 41-29 on the season and in third place in the East.

Let’s look at what to expect from tonight’s game starting with the details, yeah?

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Where to Watch:

Sportsnet ONE, 7:00 p.m. ET.

Lineups:

Toronto - Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas

Cleveland – George Hill, J.R. Smith, Jeff Green, LeBron James, Kevin Love

Injuries:

Toronto – DeMar DeRozan (Questionable – Left-thigh contusion), Fred VanVleet (Questionable – Right-hand contusion)

Cleveland – Rodney Hood (Questionable – Sore lower back), Larry Nance Jr. (OUT – Sore hamstring), Tristan Thompson (OUT – Sprained right ankle), Cedi Osman (OUT – Sore hip)

Note: Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue has taken a leave of absence from the team to focus on his health and Kyle Korver will miss tonight’s game due to the death of his brother.

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Raptors Limp Their Way into Cleveland

The Raptors are on the second-leg of a back-to-back and hope to have enough in the tank to take out LeBron James and his Cavaliers. The good news? Toronto is 7-4 in the second game of a back-to-back this season. The bad news? Cleveland is 9-4 when their opponent plays their second game of a back-to-back and when rested, according to the Raptors TSN broadcast.

If there is any three-game stretch the Raptors would like to get over, it would be this one. On Sunday, Toronto played the Oklahoma City Thunder in a hard-fought physical match. The intensity of that game was at an all-time high with both teams going at it.

Regarding workload, DeRozan (who was ejected) was the only starter who played more than 30 minutes, at 33, followed by Ibaka at 29 minutes, Lowry with 27, Valanciunas with 22 and Anunoby with 13. The Bench Mob, on the other hand, did play more than usual with Delon Wright playing 31 minutes, C.J. Miles with 26, and Pascal Siakam with 23. In the end, the Thunder came out on top, defeating the Raptors 132-125.

Last night’s game, head coach Dwane Casey had to go deep into his bench in order to keep the starters fresh for tonight’s game. However, Lowry played 37 minutes, which was his most since Mar. 7 against the Detroit Pistons when he played 41 minutes. Other than that, Casey had to rely on his bench in Wright, Miles, Siakam, Lorenzo Brown, Norman Powell, and Lucas Nogueira to take care of the Magic in the second-half of the game and they did just that. Jakob Poeltl wasn’t much of a factor, recording four points and two rebounds on 11 minutes of action but expect more production from him tonight.

Going into tonight, expect all-systems-go for the Raptors’ starters as the Cavaliers will be a tough out.

All Eyes on LeBron James

Even in his fifteenth season, James is putting up video game numbers. This season, James is averaging 27.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, nine assists, 1.5 steals, and one block per game. He’s also recording triple-doubles night-in and night-out, as he has one in three of his last four games, including a 40-point triple-double. Over his last four, James is averaging 34 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 9.8 assists per game and has shot over 50 percent from the field.

With his recent play, the Raptors will need to have multiple bodies on James. Toronto did limit James’ playmaking ability in their last match-up but that was because his team was a train wreck at the time, to say the least. In that game, James put up 26 points on 9-for-16 shooting, three rebounds and one (!) assist. Look for Anunoby or Ibaka playing man-to-man on James to start — but if he goes off, expect the double team.

Play Inside-Out

With the Cavaliers’ poor defensive play from both the three-point line and inside the paint, the Raptors should have their way on offense. Cleveland allows their opponents to shoot 36.8 percent from deep, which ranks 21st in the league while also allowing 46.8 points in the paint per game, which ranks 22nd in the league.

Just like the previous meeting, the Raptors were able to exploit that as they shot 18-for-42 from three-point land and scored 66 points in the paint. Luckily for the Raptors, the Cavaliers are still thin inside because of injuries and other than James, Hill and Green, they don’t have lockdown defenders from the outside either.

Also, with Love just returning from a hand injury and on minute-restrictions, the Raptors shouldn’t worry too much about him other than keeping him off the three-point line and glass.

If the Raptors can somehow contain James, take advantage of the Cavaliers’ defense by either driving into the paint or kicking it out for threes, then they shouldn’t have a problem putting Cleveland away.