LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have ended the Toronto Raptors’ postseason hopes the past two years. And there is every chance that these teams will meet again in May. Should we expect a different outcome this time? The Raptors are within touching distance of wrapping up the number one seed (an impressive feat given the offseason system tweaks), but the Cavaliers still loom as the biggest obstacle come playoff time.
That makes this week’s clash all the more intriguing. Cleveland are starting to build a little momentum and sit in pole position to grab the number three seed, though the chasing pack are breathing down their necks. That would seemingly be the ideal scenario for Toronto, who would then only see James and company in a potential conference finals matchup.
Here are some things to look out for on Wednesday night:
Who guards LeBron James?
Despite the Raptors’ success, there are still some rotation questions for head coach Dwane Casey to figure out. OG Anunoby will likely start off guarding James but others, including Pascal Siakam and DeMar DeRozan (assuming he is back in the line-up), will take a turn. Though the Raptors’ rotation can change night to night (Anunoby barely played against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday), the rookie’s size and instincts make him the most suited to slowing James down. Getting Anunoby’s confidence up (especially with his shooting) has to be one of Toronto’s biggest priorities over the coming weeks. They will need his defense in the playoffs.
How will Cleveland fare without head coach Ty Lue?
Lue’s decision to take a brief leave of absence for health reasons was sad news. His players will surely want to rally and pick up some wins for him, but a different voice in the locker room and in the huddle (assistant coach Larry Drew) may be challenging. Still, the Cavaliers managed just fine on Monday night against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Can the Raptors push the pace?
It is no secret that this Cleveland team, though younger since the trade deadline, struggles in transition. Look for Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright and (if he shakes off a wrist injury) Fred Van Vleet to set a high tempo and get the Cavaliers on their heels.
How much do Toronto want this game?
There is a chance that Casey rests one or two players here since the Raptors will be on the second night of a back-to-back set. But it is probably too good a chance to test his players’ mettle on the road against a rival. Toronto have had some solid wins on their travels this season (in Houston, in Washington, in Portland) but there are still question marks over their composure on the road in the postseason. This game should have a playoff feel and will tell us more about the Raptors.
How quickly can Kevin Love adjust to his new team-mates?
Love missed extended time after breaking his hand but looked good (18 points) in his return on Monday. That said, he finds himself sharing the court with a new set of team-mates and there will be an adjustment period, which is never easy this close to the playoffs. Cleveland desperately need him to take some of the burden off James, but it may be another week or so before we see the best of Love.