If you’ve spent anytime online the past two weeks — and given society’s relationship to technology, I bet you have! — you’ll know that it’s been a great month for listicles. End of year lists have given way to end of decade lists. There’s been emotional montages of movies, sports highlights to make on the nostalgia tears, and the realization that Imagine Dragons owned an entire genre for ten years and we all allowed it to happen.
The Raptors close their year, and their decade, tonight against an opponent they got to know well in the 2010s: the Cleveland Cavaliers. The relationship between the Raptors and Cavaliers has gone through many phases, beginning in 2010 with a game where Hedo Turkoglu went 1-for-6, LeBron James and Mo Williams combined for 50 points, and the Cavs beat the Raptors on their way to getting trounced by the Celtics and saying goodbye to James — at least for a while.
There were the Kyrie years, then the return of James, and the constant runs into a brick wall for the Raptors as they lost to LeBron again and again and again. Now, we’ve entered a different era of the Raptors-Cavaliers rivalry. And honestly? It’s pretty boring.
The Cavs aren’t the worst team in the league at 10-22, but they are fairly uninteresting. Their young players in Collin Sexton and Darius Garland have a green light from here until April, but haven’t yet translated their raw games into something efficient. Kevin Love has been all but vocal about his desires to get traded. Tristan Thompson can still make a headline.
The Raptors, meanwhile, have been nothing short of demonstrative against teams under .500. The era of tight battles with the Cavaliers might be something best left for the last decade. On New Year’s Eve, we’ll see if Toronto can keep setting up what the 2020s will look like between these two teams.
Where to Watch
TSN, 7 PM ET
Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, Patrick McCaw, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka
Cleveland — Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson
Toronto — Pascal Siakam (out - groin), Marc Gasol (out - hamstring), Norman Powell (out - shoulder), Dewan Hernandez (out - ankle), Matt Thomas (out - finger)
Cleveland — Dylan Windler (out - leg)
In the 133-113 Raptors win on December 16, Toronto’s starters — without Fred VanVleet — were great against the Cavaliers’ starting five. Led by an 11-for-15 night from Norman Powell, the Raptors shot 58% as a team and made life look easy against a Cavaliers’ defence ranked third-last in the NBA (113.4 rating).
While there won’t be 33 points coming from Pascal Siakam in Tuesday’s game — the early injury report remains unchanged for the Raptors — there’s still plenty of opportunity for Kyle Lowry, VanVleet, and Serge Ibaka to carve up this lackadaisical defence with the starters on the floor. Going up against Garland and Sexton, Lowry especially has a chance to extend a great run of games, as he’s scored 30 points three times in the last five games and has been an A+ grifter when matched up with young players.
Protect the Glass
While Tristan Thompson may have lost a step or two since his championship heyday in the LeBron James years, he’s still a force on the offensive glass, and can be a huge factor in getting the poor-shooting Cavaliers extra possessions. Thompson has averaged 4.0 offensive rebounds per game and with the return of Kevin Love from a hip injury, there’ll be more pressure inside from Cleveland against an undersized Raptors frontcourt.
To his credit, Serge Ibaka has been excellent playing centre since Marc Gasol went down due to injury. He’s ably bodied the biggest bigs on opposing teams, with a good game against Steven Adams standing as the latest example. When it comes to the bench overlap minutes, though, it’ll be important for guys like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Terence Davis to continue a critical strength of theirs — shore up Chris Boucher by crashing the defensive glass.
Get to the Bench
Already injured and with seven weeks standing between them and the All-Star break, the Raptors can’t afford to lose anyone else and miss out on opportunities to limit their starters’ minutes.
Toronto is still in a pretty tight stretch of games with Miami on Thursday and Brooklyn on Saturday. Getting out to a sizeable lead in this one, as opposed to playing from behind as they’ve done recently against good opponents, would be ideal for getting guys like Lowry and Ibaka some rest and relaxation.