Cleveland Cavaliers (1-0) vs
Toronto Raptors (0-1)
Air Canada Centre, Toronto, ON
Friday, October 29, 2010
7:00 PM EST
The Cleveland Cavaliers try to keep their momentum going from their emotional win Wednesday night as they travel north to take on the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors can relate to the Cavaliers more than any other team this season. Just like the Cavs, they’re trying to figure out how to replace a star player who was the face of their franchise for 7 years. Unfortunately for the Raptors, though, they were a team that fell short of the playoffs even with Chris Bosh last year, so naturally many pundits expect them to be one of the worst teams in the East this season. The Raptors will surely be using the same doubt as fuel that the Cavaliers are. Without Anderson Varejao and possibly without Mo Williams, the Cavaliers will try to avoid a letdown game against a surely feisty Raptors team.
The Raptors are a dramatically different team from what Cleveland faced Wednesday against the Celtics. The Raptors are much more athletic than the Celtics and much less physical than the Celtics. While Reggie Evans is a tough defender and a great rebounder, he has hardly any offensive game. With Andrea Bargnani more content to play from the outside-in than bang in the paint, the Raptors are left as a team without much of an inside presence. That would be a great thing if you were a quality shooting team from the outside. Unfortunately for them, the Raptors don’t exactly have a plethora of good shooters from the outside. This makes their offensive identity hard to grasp and is a big part of the reason why they have so many doubters.
The Raptors may be at their best from the mid range, which puts a premium on their offensive execution. They require a lot of motion and screens to open up players for good looks from mid range. Bargnani likes receiving the ball on the wing and drawing opposing big men out to him with his shot. From there, he’s an excellent driver who uses his athleticism to get around more lumbering big men. If ever there was a game that it might be ok for the Cavaliers to be without Anderson Varejao, this might be it.
Ryan Hollins’ combination of length and athleticism make him a pretty good matchup defensively on Bargnani, at least on paper. Reggie Evans isn’t much of an offensive threat, but he played big minutes in the Raptors’ loss to the Knicks as he was asked to defend Amare Stoudemire. He will probably be the player the Raptors ask to defend JJ Hickson. On the other side of the ball, Hickson will find Evans easier to defend than Kevin Garnett or Glen Davis, but it’s important that he not lose focus on defense because what Evans lacks in offensive ability he makes up for with an ability to get the ball down low and draw fouls on defenders in a hurry.
With Varejao’s absence, I would expect Leon Powe to see some decent minutes tonight. Powe is notorious for committing fouls, so he needs to be careful when defending Evans. If Evans and Amir Johnson can get Hickson and Powe in a little foul trouble, the Raptors may be able to take advantage of the Cavaliers’ thin frontcourt. Any kind of foul trouble the Cavs bigs might face will only make life easier for Bargnani, who the Raptors will look to for the majority of their scoring this season.
The Raptors don’t seem like they should be a very good defensive team. Guys like Bargnani, Calderon, Kleiza, Johnson, DeRozan, and Barbosa are all fairly significant defensive liabilities. Johnson can get some blocked shots and Barbosa can get some steals, but fundamentally this is a weak group. Never the less, the Raptors actually played somewhat decent team defense against the improved Knicks offense. Reggie Evans and Sonny Weems are this team’s defensive pillars and from there they look to use a lot of help and rely on their team athleticism to mask their defensive issues.
For the Cavaliers, they will hope that despite the Raptor’s athleticism and quality transition defense they will be able to get their true offense on track. The Cavaliers certainly tried at times to run a little on the Celtics, but whereas I felt the Celtics were lazy in transition against Miami they actually did an outstanding job getting back on defense against Cleveland. As a result, the Cavaliers’ pace may be middle of the road, their 10 fastbreak points ranks toward the bottom of the NBA. The Cavaliers will see if they can push things a little more against Toronto.
In the half court set, Ramon Sessions should be able to have some success breaking down the Raptors PGs, as neither Jack nor Calderon are quick enough to defend PGs who possess a quick first step. From there, the Raptors really lack a solid inside defender outside of Reggie Evans. It will be interesting to see if Byron Scott tries using Hickson and Jamison at the same time at all, thus forcing Evans to defend one and leaving the other one with some room to operate. Jamison has killed the Raptors over the last 3 year, averaging almost 23 points per game over than time, and he put up 22 and 20 point games in his 2 appearances against Toronto with the Cavaliers last year. After struggling so mightily against Boston again Wednesday, I expect Antawn to look to redeem himself a bit against Toronto tonight.
Without Varejao and with Mo Williams not yet up to game speed even if he does play, the Cavaliers will look to do the same thing they’ve been doing since training camp first started. They’ll look to move on, ask other guys to step up and seize their opportunity to play. The Cavaliers proved what they are capable on any given night on Wednesday, but now they have to prove that they can be consistent and not let up against teams who aren’t in the NBA elite. Beyond that, I just look for continued improvement in pushing the ball and running the offense more effectively.