Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Toronto Raptors Best Predictions
Take the Cavs in Six
By Eric Uribe
Let’s be up front here: what chance does Toronto have of pulling off the stunning upset of the defending NBA champions?
According to bookies, slim. They are +400 to win the series, while Cleveland are comfortable -475 favorites.
With that said, if there’s any team that can give Cavs a fight in the Eastern Conference, it’s the Raptors.
Cleveland’s weakness is defending the pick and roll. Guess what? That plays right into Toronto’s strength. Between Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors have a pair of elite scorers who are absolutely lethal coming off a screen.
In the first round, the Cavs were shredded by Indiana point guard Jeff Teague. He averaged 12 points and 6.3 assists on a whopping 58.9 percent shooting from the field. With all respect to Teague, he’s not in Lowry’s league. This is a matchup where Cleveland could be exploited from start to finish.
Lowry is the series real X-factor. He’s coming off hand surgery earlier this season and doesn’t exactly have a reputation for playing big in the postseason. But he has a favorable matchup against the not-so-defense-oriented Kyrie Irving. If Toronto is going to have any chance in this series, they’ll need star performances from Lowry and DeRozan.
The scary thing about the Raptors’ backcourt is they have a slew of weapons to dish it off after they come off a screen. Between Serge Ibaka, Norman Powell, and DeMarre Carroll, Toronto’s lineup is versatile and can shoot all over the floor.
This doesn’t bode well for a Cleveland defense that’s been gashed left and right. The Pacers, a middle of the road attack, averaged 108 points off a sizzling 48 percent shooting in the first round. Simply put, this Raptors offense has the potential to be way more prolific.
If anything is a sure bet in this series, it’s probably the over. The Cavs can’t stop anyone and prefer just to outscore their opponents — which they usually do.
As with any series involving LeBron James, the question immediately shifts to how he can be defended. The Pacers had no answer for the King, who averaged 32.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 9 assists in the first-round sweep.
We’re not saying Toronto is locking him down, but they should be a lot more successful than Indiana was. If you’re going to slow down James, you’ll need a batch of defense-first wing players. The Raptors have that in DeMarre Carroll and P.J. Tucker. Carroll has experience guarding James in the postseason and Tucker’s 245-pound frame can wear on the King, too.
Toronto’s defense doesn’t get nearly as much credit as it deserves. The team finished eighth best in defense in the regular season, giving up a mere 102.6 points a game. Plus, what makes this series different from last year’s conference finals battle is Serge Ibaka.
Ibaka was acquired midseason by the Raptors and he’s a true difference maker. A year ago, Toronto was inexperienced and just happy to be in the Eastern Conference finals. In Ibaka, they are getting a guy who has played in a ton of high-stakes games. Plus, he’s a real rim protector a la Bismack Biyombo a year ago, who gave the Cavs fits at times. Ibaka is a lot more consistent than Biyombo, plus he’s a better scoring threat from all over the floor.
Moreover, the Raptors will have a healthy Jonas Valanciunas this time around. The seven-footer was injured throughout last year’s Eastern Conference finals tilt. He gives Toronto a big size advantage in the paint. It’ll be interesting to see Valanciunas’ role this series. In the first round, his role was reduced to coming off the bench as Toronto went with a smaller lineup. However, the Cavs have a more traditional lineup compared to the Bucks, one that plays to Valanciunas favor.
Toronto is a tough draw for the defending champions. They’ll play Cleveland a lot tougher than Boston or Washington, but of course, we’re not crazy enough to pick against LeBron. He’s owned the East for seven years and counting, and the reign will continue this year.
Pick: Cleveland (-475)
Series outcome: six games
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