When expectations are high, the margin for error is ridiculously slim. All of the Cavaliers accomplishments are inevitably compared to that of their toughest foes, the Warriors. We’ve done nothing since the commencement of the 2017 NBA playoffs but bash the Cavs. “They don’t play enough defense. They gave up more than 100 points to the Pacers in each of their 4 games. LeBron seems to be slowing down. LeBron is playing too many minutes.” Excuse me? In basketball, a win is a win. Clinching a series is clinching a series. Too many minutes? That’s why LeBron rested on certain nights during the regular season. To give himself maximum opportunity come playoff time. The rest will write itself in the history books (pun intended).
On their first stop to their ultimate destination (NBA Finals), the Cavs disposed of the feisty Pacers in a 4-game sweep. LeBron averaged 32.8 PPG while shooting 54.3% from the field. Like a determined champion, he averaged 43.8 MPG during the first-round series. Are any minute oriented enthusiasts out there? Let’s just point out that while you focused on his usage during the first round, he’s quietly getting a week’s worth of rest before his next opponent. If on April 15th someone said the Cavs would sweep the first round and get a week off before the 2nd round, would you take it? Of course, you would.
Enter the Toronto Raptors. This team up north took their fair share of media beatings as they found themselves down 2-1 to the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. They proceeded to rip off 3 straight to end the series and the noise that was associated with it. Now to the real situation at hand. They must put aside everything from the prior series and focus on the reason they traded for Serge Ibaka. All of the contending teams’ moves prior to this point were made in an attempt to upend the Cavaliers. Ibaka gives them a completely different dimension in terms of scoring, stretching the floor, rebounding and defending. He gives them a versatile option on both ends they did not have last season. With all the requisite parts on the roster, if the Raptors want the best shot at the boys from The Land, their time is now.
We know just about what we’re going to get from the Cavs players. So, some wild cards to focus on in this series will be DeMarre Carroll and Norman Powell. Carroll will be the initial defender on James and will also be tasked with knocking down any open looks he gets to keep the Cavs defense honest. He should be sharing some of that defensive responsibility with Powell and DeRozan at times. Powell will need to upkeep his scoring bursts as he did in the first round to give his team the best chance to win. Expect the Raptors to try to muddy up the game and slow it down in the half court, but also run out on the break for easy transition points. If the tempo increases and it becomes a shootout, the Raptors don’t stand a chance.
Overall, this series should be both intriguing and enticing for the fans. The Raptors get another shot at the champs. The Cavs get another chance to prove that they are elite and the Raptors new addition won’t be enough to stop them. Game 1 will tell a lot about matchups and desired offensive sets. Pay close attention to the different pick and roll combinations to see what each team will rely on for the majority of their offense. Game on!