If the Raptors 3-4 record in December is worrisome to you, at least they aren’t as bad as the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers — a team that’s won twice in their last 17 games. That’s right: twice in 17 games.
The Raptors looked to have found some rhythm on Saturday versus the Nets. They hit some early 3’s, moved the ball, and Kyle Lowry looked himself again since returning from injury. Oh yeah, and they won.
For Cleveland, they’re entering the time of the year when trade rumours start to pickup. Will they trade Kevin Love? How about Tristan Thompson? How bad can they get to grab a top lottery pick?
Monday’s contest will be the first of two meetings between the Raptors and Cavaliers this month, and maybe a showcase for a potential trade. At one point, even the Raptors were tied to having interest in Thompson.
More importantly, after a tough schedule to start the month the Raptors have a couple easier games ahead of them beginning with the Cavs. You can’t overlook anyone in the NBA, but it gives the Raptors an opportunity to get back to their style of play ahead of some very important Eastern Conference games coming up (and their Christmas Day home game!).
Here are your details for tonight’s game and below are three things in particular for which to watch.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One at 7:30 p.m. EST
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Cleveland – Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson
Toronto – Matt Thomas (out – hand), Stanley Johnson (out – groin), Fred VanVleet (doubtful – knee)
Cleveland – Dylan Windler (out – leg)
The last time the Raptors won consecutive games in a row feels like forever ago. It was just over two weeks ago, Nov. 29 and Dec. 1 to be exact, when they were riding a seven-game win streak. They’ll get an opportunity tonight to get that second straight win, and winning games against poor teams is super important. It’s also something the Raptors have been almost historically good at, having spent most of last season (and this one) refusing to drop games to sub-.500 competition.
The Eastern Conference is showing that home court in the playoffs will be meaningful as the top six teams have a combined home record of 69-9. Milwaukee sits comfortably — as comfortable as you can be in December — with the first seed, but only 1.5 games separate second and sixth. These teams are evenly matched.
There’s still roughly five months left in the season, so it’s early to be talking about playoff seeding, but it’s not early to say the Raptors need to start riding the winning wave again.
By the end of the first quarter versus the Nets, every Raptor had knocked down a three. It got Toronto’s offense into a very smooth rhythm early, which allowed the Raps to control the game until the end. It’s worth noting that on the season the Raptors are in the top ten in the league in assists per game at 25 and assist percentage. This month however, it’s been down to 16th and 18th for the squad. Now, some of that is just due to just missing shots, but it does suggest some ball-stopping on offense. (And that the Raps continue to miss Fred VanVleet.)
Getting everyone involved early will be a significant advantage against the Cavaliers. The Raptors are at their best when their defense is locked in, and the ball gets up the court quickly and moves side-to-side. Cleveland has the third worst defensive efficiency in the NBA, so it’s fair to say that some quick ball movement will create a lot of open looks and easy baskets.
Besides Norman Powell’s 25 points, the Raptors wings scored a combined nine points on 3-of-24 shooting. Now, it’s not cause for concern with VanVleet still out, but production from the two and three positions on the floor is paramount. It’s how the team can keep Pascal Siakam’s workload down, and it makes things easier for Lowry to operate on his inside-out game.
Setting Powell aside, the Raptors will need OG Anunoby to regain some semblance of shooting touch, and for Terence Davis to keep his confidence up. The former has ebbed considerably since a hot start to the season; the latter has been solid, but has been very much feast (made 3s) or famine (fouls, turnovers) as of late. It’ll be interesting to see if the, ahem, lesser competition of the Cavs gets anything going for OG and TD. We’ve seen it before — particularly from Anunoby — so it doesn’t seem impossible.