DJ Allen (@djallen23)
Alec Walt (@AlecWalt)
Alex Fischbein (@Thatkidfisch)
Cyril Mpacko (@Cee_armel)
Alfonso De Falco: (@FonzyDeFalco)
1. If the Raptors have any kind of competitive advantage in this matchup, what is it?
Allen: There’s no advantage for the Toronto Raptors in this series. The Cleveland Cavaliers are just that good and have been this postseason. They’ve lost to the Raptors twice during the regular season, but as we know, that means nothing when discussing the playoffs. The Raptors will have to play perfect to have any chance of pulling out a win.
Walt: The only advantage the Toronto Raptors have over the Cleveland Cavaliers in this series is at shooting guard. DeMar DeRozan is better than J.R. Smith. Other than that matchup, the Cavaliers are better at every position.
Fischbein: The Toronto Raptors do not have a competitive advantage in this matchup. Some might say that they are scrappier and showing some more fight this post season, but the Cavs are just as determined and ready to fight as the Raptors are.
Mpacko: The competitive advantage Toronto has is the fact that they’re being written completely off. Making it out of the first round was enough for this previously underachieving group. They can play loose, carefree basketball.
De Falco: If they have any sort of advantage, I’d say its the shooting guard matchup between DeMar DeRozan and J.R. Smith. DeRozan has averaged 20 points this postseason so far compared to Smith’s 12.3. If the Raptors have any chance to win this series they him to step up big time and dominate that matchup.
2. Are the Cavs capable of completing a full sweep of the East en route to the Finals?
Allen: Yes, I believe the Cavaliers are more than capable of pulling off yet another sweep. They are shooting the lights out of the gym and don’t seem like they can miss. Their confidence is extremely high and when Cleveland is playing like this, there aren’t many teams that can beat them.
Walt: Yes. Cleveland is playing its best basketball this season. LeBron James has his team focused and getting the best out of Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Toronto is surprisingly 2-1 against Cleveland this season. Now that it’s the playoffs the regular season records don’t matter. Cleveland in four.
Fischbein: The Cavs are definitely capable of pulling off a “fo’ fo’ fo.'” The Raptors will be without Valanciunas in the first couple games, and DeRozan isn’t 100% healthy either. That’s two of their big three. Meanwhile, Cleveland is a shooting tear and LeBron is trusting his teammates more than ever before.
Mpacko: The sample size of playoff basketball up to this point grossly supports a Cavaliers sweep. They’ve been locked in and focused. Not to mention their big 3 have yet to lose a playoff game in which all 3 have played. If DeRozan and Lowry struggle early, this series could be over be it starts.
De Falco: Maybe. I believe that the Raptors can steal at least one game at home, that is if Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan play lights out.
3. Who has a chance to help Toronto the most besides Lowry/DeRozan in this series?
Allen: The guy has to be DeMarre Carroll for the Toronto Raptors. Defensively, he’s going to be seeing a lot of LeBron James so he will need to slow him down as best as possible. And offensively, he has to knock down open shots. All of the focus will be on DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry so when Carroll’s number is called on, he has to answer.
Walt: Bismack Biyombo. He started four games this postseason. He will be starting games early this series is Jonas Valanciunas is out for Game 1. He is averaging 6.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game this postseason. That is better than Tristan Thompson’s 5 and 8.3 while starting every game. Biyombo won’t decide the series, I just believe he will have a good series.
Fischbein: DeMarre Carroll will be the one to help the most. He’s out to prove that if he was healthy with Atlanta, he could have guarded LeBron. I think he’ll take that matchup personally, and give it his all to try to shut down LeBron.
Mpacko: I’ll throw two names out there, DeMarre Carroll and Bismack Biyombo need to be exceptional for the Raptors to have a fighters chance in this series. Carroll must try and “limit” LeBron, while Biyombo just needs to do what he did in Game 7 against Miami. Easier said than done of course.
De Falco: It’s DeMarre Carroll. They did not pay him big bucks last offseason for nothing. Look for him to lock down LeBron this entire series. If he stays healthy, he can make a huge impact.
4. Out of Cleveland’s Big 3, who has the tallest task for this matchup?
Allen: The biggest task is definitely on the hands of Kyrie Irving. Kyle Lowry has been struggling but he seemed to find his shot in Game 7 against the Miami Heat. Lowry is no slouch and Kyrie should know that first hand as he put up an easy 43-piece nugget against the Cavaliers in their first match-up this season.
Walt: Kyrie Irving. Irving as the tough task of guarding Kyle Lowry. Lowry is the Toronto Raptors best player who runs their offense. LeBron James has to stop DeMarre Carrol. Kevin Love has to cover Patrick Patterson. Irving is the only member of the Cleveland Cavaliers big-3 who has to contain an all star.
Fischbein: Kyrie Irving has the tallest task because he has to guard and go against Kyle Lowry. Lowry showed this season that he can play some quality defense, and he can get hot at a moment’s notice. If the momentum from the end of the Heat series carries over, then Kyrie’s defense will be tested.
Mpacko: Kyrie Irving off bat will have his hands full with Kyle Lowry seemingly putting a rough basketball patch behind him. Lowry always plays the Cavs well and gives Kyrie his fair share of trouble when they match up. Kyrie has been great these playoffs but now he will truly be tested.
De Falco: In my opinion, it is Kevin Love. He has been playing great so far in the playoffs. The double-double machine has the potential to take advantage of Toronto’s lacking ability to rebound.
5. What’s the biggest determining factor of this series?
Allen: The determining factor for the Cleveland Cavaliers is for them to just play like they have all playoffs — unselfish, team basketball. For the Raptors, the determining factor has to be on the defensive end. They can’t afford mental lapses where they turn the ball over and give up fast break opportunities or fall asleep on defense and give up open threes because if they do, this series will for sure be over in 4 games.
Walt: The biggest determining factor in this series is health. The Cavs were not healthy last postseason and lost in the finals. They have shown when healthy they can be the best team in basketball. The Golden State Warriors are banged up which is great for the Cavaliers. The Cavaliers need a full squad for the Finals if LeBron wants to bring one home for “The Land.”
Fischbein: The determining factor will be who can get hot and sustain it. The Cavs has been ridiculously hot all post season so far, and the Raptors just started to get a little toasty in the later half of their series against Miami. Whichever team can grab that momentum and ride it throughout the series will take the ECF.
Mpacko: The 3-point shot will make or break this series. Up to this point Cleveland has been unstoppable behind the line and Toronto has been abysmal. Toronto cannot get caught trying to match the Cavs shot for shot. They must defend the three-point line and fight their way inside the paint. Keep the game ugly.
De Falco: For the Cavs, it is the guys outside of the Big 3 in J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert to name a few. If these guys play in sync with the Big 3, they can be a powerhouse team. For Toronto, they need to play perfect basketball and limit the turnovers. They need to capitalize on on Cleveland’s mistakes.