It seemed like the East’s one seed was in the bag. Up at least five games with just a month left, with a soft schedule seemingly never ending, the Toronto Raptors were ready to cruise. Now... not so much.
Now, after some stumbles and a [long sigh] Boston Celtics win streak, the Raptors are needing to play meaningful basketball again — and all in the next 48 hours. Tonight, they begin a back-to-back against the two teams behind them in the Eastern Conference standings. First, it’s the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight at Quicken Loans Arena. Tomorrow, they return home for an even more important game against Boston (who sit just two games back of them for the top seed).
While tomorrow has more to do with standings and their overall playoff aspirations, tonight has an air of revenge and the not-so-distant future. The new-look Cavaliers exposed many cracks in the Raptors’ defense just under two weeks ago, winning 132-129 — LeBron James, especially, was his usual magnificent self. Of course, too, the Cavs will always be a measuring stick for this Toronto team, and even more so as the snow starts to melt.
Tonight, we’ll get another look at how the Raptors play Cleveland’s smaller lineups, with the addition of Larry Nance Jr. My big thing to watch for tonight: can Toronto find a combination to make life more difficult for the Cavs’ lineups with Kevin Love at the five? Will Dwane Casey choose a high-usage Jonas Valanciunas, or a no-use Jonas Valanciunas? The middle ground never seems to work against Cleveland.
Beyond Nance, there’s a few other chess pieces joining the Cavs, who were missing a host of bodies in the last matchup between these two teams.
Korver is a game time decision. Love will play after not participating in shoot around because of illness.— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) April 3, 2018
So yes, what would the end of a Raptors season be without some dread and heart palpitations? The next couple days should make you feel alive, if nothing else. Let’s enjoy it.
Where to Watch
TSN 4/5, 7 PM ET
Toronto - Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
Cleveland - Jose Calderon, Rodney Hood, LeBron James, Larry Nance Jr., Kevin Love
Toronto - none
Cleveland - Kyle Korver (GAME TIME DECISION - foot), George Hill (OUT - ankle sprain)