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Raptors look for a crucial win vs. Cavaliers: Preview, start time, and more

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Tonight’s contest is the first of a back-to-back as the Raptors play catch-up for the final play-in spot and hunt for a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

It somehow feels like the Raptors have played the Cavaliers more times than they should have this season. And in each meeting, there seems to be an annoying occurrence that impacts the result of the game from Cleveland’s side — usually involving Collin Sexton. We’ve seen the guard that goes by “Young Bull” singlehandedly torch the Raptors and we’ve seen him get into the faces of the Raptors in the other, specifically Chris Boucher.

Luckily, tonight will be the final meeting (of three) between the Raptors and Cavaliers, as the former hosts the latter in Tampa. For what it’s worth, the teams have split the two previous games, so who knows what could happen tonight. What we do know is that Sexton will be held out of tonight’s contest as he’s currently in concussion protocol — which means this game will likely be less annoying.

After winning their previous four games, the Raptors had their streak snapped with a 120-103 loss to the New York Knicks in Saturday’s matinee. The loss put them at 25-35 on the season. What’s more, with the 10th-seeded Wizards beating the Cavs 119-110 last night, Toronto remains two games back from the final play-in spot.

While the Raps have some ground to regain, they can at least look forward to having their core group in Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam healthy and back on track again (yes, sans Chris Boucher).

For Cleveland, there haven’t been many bright spots this season, but their duo of Sexton and Darius Garland continues to show Cavaliers fans something for the future. While they won’t be holding down the defensive side of the backcourt, the duo dubbed as ‘Sex-Land’ lead the team’s offense and have been doing so in an impressive manner. Both are having career years with Sexton putting up 24.5 points on .487/.376/.815 shooting splits and Garland recording 17.8 points per game on .454/.411/.847 splits, to go along with his 6.1 assists a night.

Cleveland also has a young and talented big man in Jarrett Allen, who looks to be one of the up-and-coming two-way centres in the league. This will be the core Cleveland will be working with for years to come — and to a certain extent, so it goes with the Raptors tonight, so let’s see how they match up.

Now let’s jump into tonight’s details and the three keys to the game.

Where to Watch:

TSN, 7:30 pm ET

Lineups:

Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Khem Birch

Cleveland — Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, Cedi Osman, Kevin Love, Jarrett Allen

Injuries:

Toronto — Rodney Hood (knee – probable), ) Jalen Harris (hip – questionable), Chris Boucher (sprained MCL – out), Paul Watson Jr. (knee – out)

Cleveland — Collin Sexton (concussion – out), Taurean Prince (ankle – out), Dylan Windler (knee – out)

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Trap Game

Look, the Raptors are 25-35 on the season and calling any game a “trap game” is really something that’s earned by having a better record than that. Still, the Raps are fighting for the final play-in spot, the stakes are still pretty high, and a team with a record of 21-38 is coming off a back-to-back and will be without their starting point guard tonight against the Raptors. Yeah, this game had definite “trap game” vibes.

To add to all that, the Raptors have been getting burned by unexpected players from the opposing teams. From Boston’s Semi Ojeleye, to OKC’s Svi Mykhailiuk, to Chicago’s Denzel Valentine, the Raptors will have to look out for Cleveland’s unexpected player to go off, and with Sexton not playing, the odds of an unsung player torching Toronto increases.

To that end, Toronto should keep an eye out for are Cedi Osman, Isaac Okoro, and/or Matthew Dellavedova. We can expect Garland, Allen, and Kevin Love to get theirs, but it’s the other guys the Raptors will need to watch out for. Let’s see if Toronto can get through this trap game with a win.

Get Out and Run

Anytime the Raptors play a fast-paced game, we hear TSN’s Jack Armstrong on the broadcast say “Gee, I may have to wear a neck brace.” I hope Jach’s got the brace handy tonight because he may need it. If you recall, in Toronto’s last meeting against the Cavs back on April 10, the Raptors jumped out of the gates with a 47-point first-quarter outburst.

While the Raptors only had 11 fastbreak points, they managed to get into their offense early in the shot clock. Toronto continuously found the open man, the cutter, and the open lane, time and time again, and it led to the highest first-half scoring performance in franchise history (87 points) and an eventual 135-115 win. It was Gary Trent Jr. who had a masterclass performance with a career-high 44 points with unreal shooting numbers, at 17-for-19 from the field.

Not only was it Trent’s night, but Malachi Flynn got to party as well with a 20-point, 11-assist double-double. Meanwhile Yuta Watanabe also had a career-high with 14 points.

So, what do the Raptors take from their previous performance? Well, they try to repeat it! Having a near-healthy squad, Toronto will need to push the pace any time they bring the ball up the court. Cleveland’s defense isn’t nearly as good enough to halt the Raptors. The Cavs rank 21st in the league in defensive rating of 112.2, and they give up 17.7 points off turnovers, which is sixth-worst in the league. Toronto doesn’t need a bevy of career nights to win tonight, but they can certainly accomplish it together as a team.

Contributions From All

Now that the Raptors are starting to get fully healthy, the team will need to get back into rhythm ASAP. Out of Toronto’s core group, it was Lowry who still looked like he needed to get his legs under him against the Knicks. Setting that aside — because we’re not worried about Lowry, really — Toronto will need help from the bench. The Raptors’ reserves went missing in New York, mustering a mere 11 points on a combined 4-for-13 shooting. Trent Jr. looked uncomfortable off the bench, but he’ll have to adjust quickly as Toronto needs him to prop up that unit — which is now playing without Boucher and Paul Watson, and working in big man Freddie Gillespie.

It’ll be crucial for the Raptors to get everyone going as well as to finish this game strong, considering how poorly the fourth quarter went against the Knicks. In that stretch, Toronto was outscored 32-20 with more than a couple of costly turnovers. The best-case scenario here is the Raptors have a big enough lead in the fourth so as to rest their starters. As has been the case all season, they’ll have to prepare quickly for a back-to-back tomorrow night against the East-leading Brooklyn Nets.