A rematch of the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals finds itself a bit early in 2017. These two teams will face off in the Conference Semifinals instead present day. This season the Cavaliers will face a bit different of a line-up from Toronto with the addition of Serge Ibaka.
The Cavs are coming off a first round sweep, beating the Pacers 4-0. We saw the Cavs struggled a little bit in game one and two, and we also saw the Cavs greatness as well (or Lebron James). The Cavs are well rested as they have not played since April 23rd which gives them a total of seven days of rest.
Cavaliers Keys To Win?
Containing DeMar DeRozan will be a focal point for the Cavs defense. DeRozan is not a trigger happy guard that tries to beat you with the three ball but containing him in the mid-range will be key. The Southern Cal product at 6’7 is super athletic and can find his way to the basket as well. He averages nine free-throws per game while shooting 84-percent from the charity stripe. In the first round Derozan average 23.5 points per game against a very good Milwaukee defense while he averaged eight free-throws per game, shooting 92-percent from the line. If he can miraculously find a three-point shot in this series he will open up the Cavs defense to respect him from distance. Against the Bucks DeRozan only made one three-pointer the whole series. This isn’t surprising as he is shooting 28-percent from three. It also will be no surprise if the Cavs defense allows plays DeRozen very loose on the perimeter. One Cavalier that will be tasked with slowing DeRozan will be Iman Shumpert. Shumpert might be shorter than DeRozan but he is a very strong defender he is also athletic enough to contest all of DeRozan’s fade-away jumpers. Shumpert did a good job guarding Paul George in the Pacers series I think he will hold his one in this matchup as well. Look for head coach Tyronn Lue to go to him early.
Feed The Big Guy
After singing a five year, 82 million dollar contract Tristan Thompson is showing he can all of his money. Thompson is a rebounding specialist and he plays extremely hard. At 6’9 Thompson is a bit undersized at the center spots but that has not stopped him from being one of the best rebounding big men in the game. Thompson is not a gifted offensive player but he does not need to be for this Cavalier team. I think the Cavs need to find ways to get him easy baskets early. This will force Toronto’s big men to give him more attention on the defensive end. The former Texas center is from Canada and will be playing in front of friends and family.
The Big Three
Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, and LeBron James will produce. They are going to score and have the direct impact on this series. For the Cavs to win this series confidently the other guys will have to step up. Like we saw in the first series the Cavs needed their bench to comeback from a 25-point halftime deficit.
Remember when Deron Williams was in discussion for best point guards in the NBA? Well those days are over. Injuries has derailed his career a bit but Williams can still produce. Williams not as explosive as he use to be but can still shoot the ball and run a team. That is all the Cavs need from him. Williams in the regular season averaged 11.0 points per game and in the playoffs so far is averaging eights points per game. Williams came up big in the close out game against the Pacers scoring 14 points in 13 minutes. Williams will be key in this series when Irving goes to bench Williams can still provide some scoring and keep the Cavs afloat while Irving is resting.
The Toronto Raptors at times, appear to be an unpredictable team. They showed flashes of dominance in the series against the Bucks but a few lapses put them in jeopardy of advancing to round two. The a Raptors are led by it’s All-Star backcourt DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry who both have inconsistent shooting nights. In their close out game six against the Bucks the Raptors squandered away a 25-point before almost failing to close out the series. The length and size of Milwaukee’s team was an obvious reason the Raptors struggled for part of that series. This does not get any better facing Lebron James followed by J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Richard Jefferson.
Kyle Lowry struggled with a sore back in the first-round. He did not miss any significant playing time or games but the concern of his health at this point should factor into his play. Lowry averaged 22.4 points, 7.0 assist and 4.8 rebounds per game in the regular season for the Raptors. In order for the Raptors to have a chance Lowry needs to be very productive series. Against the Cavs this season Lowry averaged 20 points per game. Unlike the first round of these playoffs Lowry will be guarding another All-Star point guard in Irving. It is important for Lowry to make Irving defend him which Lowry will need to be aggressive and have his shooting up to par at all times.
The New Faces
During the trade deadline the Raptors where able to get two quality veterans in Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker. Tucker and Ibaka made an immediate impact on the Raptors. Adding toughness, defense, and shooting. Ibaka had a great first round series averaged 12.8 points and eight rebounds per game. Ibaka can guard both forward spots and centers. Ibaka will be looked upon on this Raptors club for his leadership role as well. Ibaka’s role has never been a number one option but is a really good number 3 option on this team. Tucker is a 6’5 combo forward avergaing 6.7 points and six rebounds a game during the regular season but struggled a bit to find his range in the playoffs thus far. Tucker known for his ability to knock down corner threes but only made two threes in the first round. Tucker is also a really good defender, he will have the assignment of trying to slow LeBron James. The Cavaliers have not played the Raptors post-trade deadline so, they will be truly seeing a new look Toronto team for the first time this year.
Let Kevin Love score
Kevin Love is one of the big three and will need to find his shot this series. Averaging 15 points, nine rebounds. Love has the ability to put the ball on the floor beyond his catch and shoot off a pick-and-pop. Ibaka will be guarding Love for the most part so there wouldn’t be much of a mismatch. Both players have a similar role on each team as they can knock down the three ball but also provide an interior presence. If Love can regain back his hot shooting this will open up the Toronto defense and create a pick your poison scenario between Love, Irving and James.
He goes by Norman Powell. Norman who? The former second round pick out of UCLA played great in the first round. The 6’4 shooting guard has been in and out of the rotation this year but has picked a great time to step up. Powell had a great series against the Bucks averaging 14 points per game with a 25-point outburst in game four. The combo guard is super athletic and has the ability to finish over defenders. Powell is not normally known for his shooting but against Milwaukee he knocked down open jumpers. He is another perimeter defender that Toronto can use to slow down James or Irving. Should he continue providing an offensive boost the Raptors can have attention taken off Lowry and DeRozan.
The Cavs won the series season 3-1 against the Raptors. Kyle Lowry is a free agent after this season playing on a contract year so this is another stage to show he’s worthy of a big pay-day.
Series prediction Cavs in six games.
Baseline Times Staff Writer