Revenge will be on the mind of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Well, perhaps for everyone except Tristan Thompson. For Thompson, this game will be a homecoming game. The Brampton, Ontario native will be playing his first professional game in his home province when the Cleveland Cavaliers (3-2) try to avenge their season opening loss to the Toronto Raptors (2-3) on Wednesday night in Toronto.
The Raptors will likely use a starting lineup of Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, Rasual Butler, Andrea Bargnani, and Amir Johnson. Jerryd Bayless (who played well the first time these teams faced), Aaron Gray, and Linas Kleiza are all day-to-day with injuries. It’s highly unlikely Kleiza will be ready to return for this game.
The Cavaliers will continue to use their starting lineup of Kyrie Irving, Anthony Parker, Omri Casspi, Antawn Jamison, and Anderson Varejao. Semih Erden is still out with an injury, Christian Eyenga has been sent down to the D-League, and Samardo Samuels is out due to problems with his international visa (not to be confused with his credit card, which I’m sure is fine). This means Ryan Hollins will be the lone backup center tonight, and we all saw how well Hollins matches up with the Raptors in Game 1. So, yeah, we have that to look forward to.
Look, bottom line in this game is we are going to see the exact same matchup problems that the team experienced in Game 1. Calderon is still going to try to use his quickness off screens to burn Kyrie in the pick and roll game. Bargnani will continue to force Cavs bigs out of the lane to defend him, leaving open lanes for Calderon to drive and kick to open players with easy shots. The Cavaliers are going to still have the same one-and-done rebounding issues against a team who is 5th in the NBA in DRB%. The Cavalier offense is going to still be facing a team with a renewed spirit on defense.
The Raptors have had their ups and downs this year like the Cavaliers have, but the Raptors are a much improved team from last year. Andrea Bargnani finally seemed to have the light bulb turn on for him last season, but this year he is taking the necessary steps to finally blossom into a truly great player. Bargnani is posting careers highs this year in minutes, FG%, FGM, Defensive Rebounds, Assists, and Points. His 21.15 PER is by far the highest of his career. He is also impressing the Toronto coaching staff with his defense and his improved focus on that side has lead to average less than 2 fouls per game for the first time in his career.
DeMar DeRozan is also having a much better season and Jose Calderon is going through a resurgence thanks in no small part to the growth of Bargnani’s game. The Raptors aren’t going to be confused with the Heat any time soon, but this is a team that is getting better and giving fans in Toronto something to be excited about.
The Cavaliers will be looking to dampen some of that excitement tonight. After playing hard but ultimately looking overmatched by the Raptors on opening night, they will be looking to prove that they, too, are a developing and growing team and that they have learned a lot since that first loss.
For sure, Kyrie Irving’s confidence and nerves have improved by leaps since then. In fact, Irving has played so well lately it’s hard to believe that first game was only 9 days ago. I expect to see Irving play much better tonight with the confidence not only from himself, but with the confidence of his teammates. He is making the offense flow right now, and for a starting lineup that has been struggling with inconsistency, it’s been Irving who has been the most dependable offensive player the last few games.
One area the Cavaliers should have a strong advantage is in bench play. The Cavaliers bench has, simply put, been the best bench in the NBA by far this young season. They are tied with Phoenix for most points per game (46.8), but in Efficiency Differential they lead the NBA by a mile. The reserves’ +21.6 efficiency differential is 8 points higher than the 2nd most efficient bench (Denver at +13.3).
Toronto’s bench has been faltering of late. Leandro Barbosa has not been consistent or efficient outside of one breakout game at Dallas, and Ed Davis has seen his minutes shrink as he continues to disappoint. Bayless will probably try to play tonight, but if he is unable to play at 100% it will further shorten the bench. If the Cavaliers’ bench can continue their stellar play, Toronto may be forced to either play longer minutes for their starters or lean on Barbosa and Davis to step up and carry the bench crew.
This will be the Cavaliers’ first back to back game this year, so it will also be interesting to see what effect playing last night has on the team. The bench played most of the 4th quarter against the Bobcats. We’ll see if Byron Scott intends to play more minutes for the more rested starters tonight or if he continues to rely on that bench unit to play heavy minutes in the 2nd half.
This could be a great game to measure the Cavaliers’ progress. Have they fixed the matchup issues that plagued them in that opening game? Can Kyrie and Tristan continue to prove why they were worthy of their draft spots? Can Omri Casspi somehow recover his confidence and his game? Can Byron Scott figure out a way to slow down Calderon and Bargnani? It looks to be another fun one to watch.