The Toronto Raptors begin another mini road-trip today, facing the Cleveland Cavaliers in their first matchup of the season. Last year, Toronto managed to come away with a 3-1 record against the Cavs, which certainly isn’t impossible to repeat when considering these teams head-to-head this season. Cleveland’s roster hasn’t seen major changes since their last meeting, but they have had some struggles early on. In part, this is due to the injury bug, and as a result is fairly average in the NBA in most statistical categories: 22nd in offence, 22nd in assists, 14th in rebounds, and 12th in defence. The only thing they outpace the Raptors on is defensive ranking, and they sit just above them in that respect.
Cleveland is coming into this game after an extremely tough, 33-point blowout loss to Miami. They’ve finally got most of their lineup back together after having lost Mitchell, Garland, and Jarrett Allen for five games each with a variety of ailments. Despite regular season success last year, they struggled early, and it’s been a mixed bag since, losing games they should’ve won and vice versa. They’re one of the few teams that have beat Denver, but lost to Indiana while at full strength.
For Toronto, things have been slowly coming together recently. Their most recent win over Chicago was fairly dominant, and showcased some of the crucial things the Raps have been working towards: better ball movement, support from the bench, and of course, actual wins. With 6 players in double figures against the Bulls, and a continued hot shooting streak (above 50% from the field), the Raptors will try to keep that momentum going. Following the most recent two victories in a row, they will have the opportunity to make it a third straight for the first time this season.
How to Watch:
Sportsnet, at 7:30 pm ET
Toronto: Dennis Schroder, O.G. Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl
Cleveland: Max Strus, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen, Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell
Toronto: Christian Koloko (Out; Respiratory Issue), Markquis Nowell (Out; G-League Two-Way), Javon Freeman-Liberty (Out; G-League Two-Way), Ron Harper Jr. (Out; G-League Two-Way), Gradey Dick (Out; G-League on-assignment)
Cleveland: Ricky Rubio (Out; away from team), Ty Jerome (Out; ankle), Dean Wade (Out; ankle)
One of the biggest storylines of this game is undoubtedly the matchup between Evan Mobley and Scottie Barnes. Drafted 3rd and 4th respectively, there is an ongoing discussion of who’s better. To compare them numerically may seem straightforward enough, as Mobley has 16/10/3 while Barnes has 19/9/6. Arguably, Barnes takes the cake, but it’s important to recognize they play significantly different roles, and entirely different styles for their respective teams. Of course, Barnes also has some hardware in the way of a ROY trophy to support his case. Both have been taking major steps defensively as well, but have a different load and expectations too. Their respective fan bases will continue to argue about this, but another head-to-head is an excellent opportunity for the debate to rage on.
The last time the Raptors have strung together a pair of wins this season, they lost the following game in a rather devastating way. A key to this game will be winning bench minutes, one of the biggest struggles this season. Once the game turns to Scottie and the bench, this tends to be the point that the opposing team goes on a run to put the Raptors in a deficit they need to come back from. Trent Jr., Flynn, and Boucher have been coming up big for the Raptors recently, and if they can continue to string together good minutes and scoring, the Raptors should be able to overcome the Cavaliers, who have considerable bench contributors in LeVert, Porter, and Niang. Cleveland has a fair size advantage with Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley, so it will be important for the Raptors to stay on the boards to prevent paint points and second chance opportunities. Hopefully with Precious Achiuwa back in the lineup again, that threat will be mitigated as well.