As the end of the season starts to draw near, playoff pictures are coming a little more into focus, but in the Eastern Conference, the race for first place is still a tight one. At 55-21, the Toronto Raptors are trying to fend off the Boston Celtics (53-23) for first overall seed in the Eastern Conference. The two will square off on Wednesday, the second night of a back-to-back for both teams, but before they do, Toronto must first deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers are also in the picture, but realistically, they find themselves fighting for the third overall spot as they sit at 47-30 (a half game ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers).
As a result of the tight races, both teams have a lot on the line, meaning that Tuesday’s matchup between the Raptors and Cavaliers will be one that both teams are fighting for. The two teams will face off at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland with a 7:00 PM ET tipoff.
Raptors Looking To Get Back On Track
The Raptors are 2-3 in their last five games including a game on March 21st against the Cavaliers, one that saw them lose 129-132. In that game, Kyle Lowry led the Raptors with 24 points and 7 assists while Jonas Valanciunas led with 8 rebounds. The only other meeting between the two teams was on January 11, where the Raptors won in Toronto 133-99; however, being before the trade deadline, the Cavaliers look like a completely different team than the one from that first meeting.
To win the season series, Toronto will look to guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. For the season, DeRozan is averaging 23.4 points per game on 46% shooting and 3.9 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.1 steals per game. For Lowry, he is averaging 16.5 points per game on 43.1% shooting with 5.6 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 1.1 steals per game.
One thing that will be interesting is how does coach Dwane Casey manage the minutes. On the one hand, their lead in the East is far from secure, as it sits at just two games.
On the other hand, they have to play a back-to-back (with Wednesday’s game being against the current second seed, Boston Celtics) and there is always the desire to have your team rested going into the playoffs. Throughout the season, they have been able to rely on a great bench, which is scoring 41.7 points per game (4th best in the NBA), but how Coach Casey sets his rotations may play a big factor in the outcome.
Cavaliers Hope To Keep Rolling Despite Injuries
For the Cavaliers, much of their success is always predicated on how well Lebron James is playing and recently, that has been pretty well. The Cavaliers have won eight of their last ten games and in all ten games, Lebron James has led the team in both scoring and assists. In the win over the Raptors on March 21st, James had a double-double with 35 points and 17 assists. For the season, Lebron is averaging 27.4 points per game on 54.2% shooting. He is also averaging 8.7 rebounds, 9.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
They have battled some injuries recently, though, and may be without both George Hill and Kyle Korver on Tuesday. Even without those two, the Cavaliers were able to beat a lowly Dallas Mavericks team in their last game on Easter, with James, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and Jordan Clarkson all finishing in double digits.
Big Eastern Conference Game
With both teams having something to play for, I look to recent play and I look to the superstars, both of which favor the Cavaliers. Ultimately, I envision Toronto leaning a little heavier on their second unit and while they have been productive all season, I don’t envision it holding up to the surging Cavaliers. With that in mind, I am taking the Cavaliers at -1.5.
If betting the over/under on total points, I am going with the over. Both teams are ranked in the top five for total points, both are in the top ten for field goal percentage, Cleveland is 8th in three point percentage, and Toronto is 4th in free throw percentage. While I don’t think they are going to score a combined 261 points like in their last meeting, I do anticipate them surpassing the 223.5. Taking the Cleveland Cavaliers -1.5.