The Toronto Raptors are coming off a much-needed two-day break as they looked gassed in their last matchup versus the Chicago Bulls. This is the first time in a while it feels like the Raptors aren’t headed out on another road trip or getting ready to play in a back-to-back. They now return home to Scotiabank arena to finish the season series versus the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers have had our Raptors’ number this season, taking three of the four games out of the season series. However, After an impressive string of wins in the last 10 games for the Raptors and some luck with the Chicago Bulls and Cavaliers both slowing down, the Raptors now find themselves entrenched in a seeding battle for the sixth seed and the subsequent reward of skipping the play-in tournament.
This is easily one of the most important games that the Raptors will play in all season. While the team will be without the services of a few key players, it will be crucial that the Raptors snap the three-game losing streak at home with a win versus Cleveland.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 7:30 p.m.
Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Khem Birch, Scottie Barnes, Pascal SIakam
Cleveland— Darius Garland, Lamar Stevens, Issac Okoro, Lauri Markkanen, Evan Mobley
Toronto — Gary Trent Jr. (toe – day to day), Malachi Flynn (hamstring – out), OG Anunoby (finger – day to day)
Cleveland — Jarrett Allen (finger – out ), Collin Sexton (knee – out), Rajon Rondo (ankle – out), Dean Wade (knee – out)
Story of the Season Series
If there were one word that could encapsulate the Raptor’s season series with the Cleveland Cavaliers, it would have to be “injuries.” It seems as though every time the Raptors are scheduled to play the Cavaliers, they are missing a key player to injury. For example, in the series opener against the Cavaliers on November 5th, the Raptors missed Pascal Siakam as he was recovering from surgery to repair his torn labrum. Fast forward to the next matchup on December 26th, one that should be wiped from the record books in my opinion, the Raptors were virtually missing the entire team due to Covid health and safety protocols.
In the game on March 6th, they were once again bit by the injury bug as both Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby missed the highly anticipated nationally televised matchup. Now in our final matchup versus the Cavs, we will most likely still be without the services of OG Anunoby. While he was upgraded to questionable ahead of the game against the Cavs tonight, it still appears he is unlikely to play.
It’s truly a bummer that the raptors will probably not face the Cavaliers at full strength this season withholding a surprise playoff or play-in matchup. While it also hasn’t been all rainbows and sunshine for the Cavaliers as they have dealt with a plethora of injuries of key players themselves, most notably Ricky Rubio, Collin Sexton, and now Jarret Allen, it’s clear that injuries have played a significant factor in why the Raptors have dropped three straight this year.
What’s Up With Freddy
Fred VanVleet has not been himself since the Raptors have returned from All-Star Break. His second half of the season has been marred by some ugly shooting performances and missed games as he attempts to play through a lingering right knee injury. Fred just hasn’t performed to the All-Star level the team and fans have grown accustomed to, and it’s sad to say, but from a statistical standpoint, the team is performing better without him on the court.
While it’s vital to have Fred VanVleet out on the court if the Raptors hope to continue racking up wins to avoid the play-in tournament, if he isn’t able to recover from this knee injury that has derailed the second half of his season, it may be better for the team to allow him some rest as they enter the final ten-game stretch of the season. Fred appears to be dead set on playing through but acknowledges the struggles his injury has caused.
I’m sure the team will make the right decision on how to move forward, and this critical game versus the Cavaliers will impact that. The difference between getting the sixth seed and days of rest before a first-round series or going through the possibility of two extra games in the play-in with most likely a huge minute load for VanVleet could have significant ramifications.
Currently, as things stand, the Raptors are one game behind the Cavaliers and two games back from the Chicago Bulls. After losing to the Bulls in the Raptors’ last outing, they have ceded the tiebreaker in favor of the Bulls, which means passing them in the standings is a tall order. However, with their recent play (3-7 in their last ten), it’s not impossible.
The best chance at the Raptors breaking into the top six in the standings would have to be bypassing the Cavaliers. While the outcome of this game has no impact on the tiebreaker between the two teams as the Cavaliers already lead the season series 3-0, the Raptors have still been presented a golden opportunity that they need to take advantage of.
While I would hate to call this regular-season game with nine remaining a must-win, handing the Cavaliers a loss while securing a win is critical to the Raptor’s chances. To make matters even more interesting, the Cavaliers and Bulls both face each other on Saturday, guaranteeing a loss for one. If the Raptors take care of business down the stretch, optimism is building that they could pass either one of these teams in the standings.