The Toronto Raptors will be looking for revenge against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, when they play them tonight at the Air Canada Centre at 7:30 ET.
The last time they played, the Cavaliers handed the Raptors their largest loss of the season, beating them 122-100. Since then, the Raptors have had a 17-3 record, helping them distance themselves from the rest of the mediocre teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Raptors will still be without DeMarre Carroll, while the Cavaliers will be without Mo Williams and potentially Iman Shumpert, who is a game-time decision.
Pound the Paint
The Cavaliers have already lost this week, after the Detroit Pistons banged them down low to take a 96-88 victory. The Pistons outscored the Cavaliers 40-28 in the paint, by taking advantage of Andre Drummond and Marcus Morris, who combined for 37.5 per cent of Detroit’s shot attempts.
The Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas, and Luis Scola have similar styles of play to the bigs in Detroit, and could try to pull off the same success. Valanciunas didn’t get enough touches the last time the Raptors played the Cavs, which resulted in him only scoring 9 points to go with 8 boards on 50 per cent shooting.
When Valanciunas does shoot the basketball more often, it’s been a huge reason in helping the Raptors win. In games that he’s shot over 10 field goal attempts this season, the Raptors are a remarkable 13-3.
Counterattack Kevin Love
When Kevin Love plays against Toronto, he always makes sure to leave his mark. He didn’t have the greatest game against the Raptors on Jan. 4, but there’s no reason they should dismiss the 17.9 points, 10.8 boards and 43.3 per cent shooting from 3-point land he provides against them for his career.
He’s also been great lately while playing against other contenders, such as the 29-point, 11-rebound performance he had against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.
With the Raptors not having made an improvement in their rotation at the power forward position before the trade deadline, tonight’s game should be a statement that their good enough to make it out of the East without one. To accomplish that, Patrick Patterson needs to produce for the Raptors up front against Love.
Little has been said to how efficient and productive the Raptors have been with Patterson this season. He leads the team in plus/minus with 6.1, which is the point differential of the score for a player while on the court. He’s also finished with a positive double-digit plus/minus in 8 of their 10 last team games. He may not be comfortable being in the starting lineup, but he should expect to play critical minutes down the stretch.
Run Them Off The 3-Point Line
The Raptors need to run the Cavaliers off the 3-point line, since shooting from downtown has been a large component of their system. In February, the Cavaliers have been putting up 29.2 3-pointers a game, which they’ve been shooting at of 36.3 per cent.
In wins, the Cavs are a tiny bit better, attempting 29.7 a game while shooting 38.5 per cent shooting. Their whole goal is most evident in their ability to set up their players for catch-and-shoot 3s. This season they’ve been averaging 20.4 of those shots a game, which they’ve been converting at 38.9 per cent.
The only player the Raptors should be satisfied with shooting from distance is LeBron James, who’s been averaging 27.6 per cent from beyond the 3-point arc.
X-Factor: James Johnson
Any time you go against a team that has LeBron on it, a large portion of the game plan is surrounded around stopping him. As mentioned before, Carroll will be out again tonight, making it James Johnson’s responsibility to contain the King.
The last time they played, he did a solid job by only allowing James to score 20 points, while collecting 2 rebounds and 7 assists. If he puts up those numbers again tonight, it’ll certainly increase the Raptors chances of winning.
Offensively, the Raptors shouldn’t expect Johnson to do any damage, since he’s only scored in double-digits twice since the last time they’ve played the Cavaliers. Instead the Raptors could use Terrence Ross, who’s poured in double-digit points 12 times in that same span.
All stats for this article are from NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com
You can follow Bryan Meler on Twitter @BryanMelo97