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Due to a quirk in the schedule, the Toronto Raptors will have faced the Cleveland Cavaliers three times within about three weeks by the end of the night. The two teams will be battling for Eastern Conference supremacy all season long. The Raps took game 1 in Cleveland, the Cavs took game 2, and the grudge match is tonight. The Raptors will look to learn from their mistakes last time and steal one on the road against a streaking Cavs squad.
The Cavaliers have the star power, while the Raptors are loaded with depth. These two teams offer up interesting match ups, from Kevin Love and Amir Johnson to Kyle Lowry and Kyrie Irving. To learn more about the team, I caught up with Chat Sports’ Brian Rauf and asked him five questions about the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Can the Cavaliers excel defensively with the players they have right now?
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Cleveland won’t be one of the best defensive teams in the league, but they have the potential to be much better than they have been. We all know how good LeBron James is on that end of the floor, but most of their problems have simply been from a lack of effort. When that’s where they focus all of their energy, their quickness and athleticism can cause problems.
Dion Waiters has been the punchline of a lot of jokes – and rightfully so – but this team absolutely needs him. They don’t have a lot of depth, and he’s the only guy who can consistently produce offensively from their bench. Cleveland needs him to embrace that sixth man role like the did at Syracuse and focus on providing a spark.
Who’s the Cavaliers key piece off of the bench? Are they deep enough to make a deep playoff run and challenge for the NBA finals or do they need another piece?
Waiters can’t carry the bench by himself, so Tristan Thompson has to become much more consistent. He has the talent to be a double-double guy every night – he just has to show it. Those two can get them through the Eastern Conference, but they need to pick up another piece to compete with the teams in the West. Don’t be surprised to see them make a trade for Minnesota’s Corey Brewer this month.
What do you think is the key match up in this game?
Irving vs. Lowry. Lowry has dominated Irving in both meetings as he took advantage of Irving’s lackluster defense. Irving has greatly improved already this season in that regard, but Lowry will test him in every way. If Irving can’t slow him down, Toronto’s going to win.
What’s the final score?
I think the Cavs will come out with a lot of intensity, and when they play focused basketball, there’s very few teams in the league that can beat them. The Raptors will certainly keep pace with Cleveland for most of the game especially after the loss last time, but I expect James or Irving to take over at the end of the game as the Cavs pull away and win 112-108.