At this point of the season for Toronto, there is nothing really to play for. The Raptors sit two games behind the Milwaukee Bucks (at 50-17) for first place in the East, and while it’s still conceivable to catch them, it does not feel super likely. We’ve become so inured to Toronto’s regular season success that we’re very laissez faire about the whole thing — oh, the Raptors are in second again? Whatever.
Not helping the blasé mood on the eve is the presence of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Yes, the once mighty team from the heartland of America has been humbled in extremis this season, and as Raptors fans we are absolutely one hundred percent fine with it. Still, we have to watch the games, and the Raps have to play them. The injury-riddled remnants of the Cavs empire — which at this point amounts to Kevin Love and little else — will indeed take the court tonight in their home. Should the Raptors worry? I say no. And even if they manage to laissez faire their way into a loss, what did Toronto lose really? Think about it.
Now here are your game details for the evening and some things to keep an eye on.
Where to Watch
TSN at 7pm EST
Toronto - Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Cleveland - Collin Sexton, Brandon Knight, Cedi Osman, Kevin Love, Ante Zizic
Toronto - Fred VanVleet (out - hand)
Cleveland - Matthew Dellavedova (out - concussion), John Henson (out - wrist), Larry Nance Jr. (out - rib), Tristan Thompson (out - foot), J.R. Smith (out - vacation)
In truth, the above starting lineup for Toronto, at this hour, is purely aspirational. There’s no reason at all to believe that Kawhi Leonard will take the floor in Cleveland. The Raptors have actually been ramping up their protectiveness of his health as February has ticked into March. Leonard used to just sit out one of two back-to-back games, but now that’s expanded to include any game the team and player feel like he should miss. That’s meant skipping some, uh, less than competitive games.
And, sincerely, that’s fine. The Raptors will definitely not need Kawhi to beat the hapless Cavaliers. Toronto has gone 3-0 against them this season, with Leonard playing each time and growing in ability with each passing contest. The last outing had him casually going off for 37 points in 32 minutes with only Pascal Siakam joining him in the starting lineup. My point here is two-fold: Kawhi is awesome, and the Cavaliers [Stephan A. Smith pause] are bad.
Still, it’s fun to watch Kawhi play! And as such, we resume our vigil.
What Will OG Anunoby Do Next?
Good news for OG Anunoby fans: he’s been playing some of the best sustained basketball of his career post-All-Star break. Yes, OG’s numbers are still rather pedestrian looking — just 7.1 points and 3.0 rebounds — but he’s starting to show a bit more of that gamer spirit he had in his rookie season. I realize this is a nebulous thing to describe (especially when the +/- don’t exactly help Anunoby’s case either, but just run with me here).
OG has had three different absences this season, due to injury and personal reasons, and each time it’s looked like he’s struggled to get back into the groove of things. His shooting went into the tank — particularly from the free throw line — and that maniac defensive ability he possesses didn’t quite show itself much. But then again: it’s easy to forget that Anunoby had one of his best games of the season (a 21-point, 8-rebound explosion) against these very same Cavaliers. In that spirit (and with Kawhi maybe sitting), let’s see of OG can continue his run of solid play. The Raptors could really use Good OG come playoff time.
This match-up presents an interesting challenge and opportunity for the Raptors’ new big man in the middle. If you’ve looked at the Cavaliers roster for any length of time (try not to stare too long), you’ll notice they don’t quite have a ton of true centres. The team has put Thompson there, but he’s injured; they’ve used Nance there, but he too will sit out tonight; and they’ve even gone with creaky Kevin Love in the pivot, an idea that has bedevilled the Raptors in the past. (I do not want to talk about that.)
With John Henson also sitting out, that leaves them with starting young Ante Zizic tonight which, hmm, could allow Gasol, only one of the more talented and smarter players in the whole NBA, to have some fun. On the season, the Cavaliers are the worst defensive team in the league, and Zizic at centre isn’t going to do much to change that. This means, hey, maybe we get to see some whip-ass passes from Gasol, some smart sets, some plays that generate buckets as if from nowhere. Or at the very least, maybe Gasol has a chance to flex his own scoring muscle. In 11 games with Toronto, he’s only scored in double figures four times. Maybe Gasol sees Zizic, sees the Cavs in front of him, and just goes for it.