What to make of this Cavs team? I don’t think you’d find too many people around the league who would say that they fully bought that run to the finals last year. Take Boobie Gibson out of the equation against the Pistons and Detroit takes that series. That was totally one of those “get hot at the right time” situations. Now that isn’t to say that the Cavs aren’t a good team, because they are, but they’re not NBA Finals good (and that was exposed in the Finals).
So what gives today? The Raptors have lost 5 straight at Cleveland, but they are playing well on the road this year. Cleveland can’t win at home, but they kicked the Raptors all around the court last year. LeBron James is having an awesome start to the season, but he’s going to be facing a guy who has surprisingly turned into one of the Raptors best defenders in Jamario Moon, who has relished playing against a lot of top players this season, not allowing anybody over 20 points. So, I ask again, what gives?
Here are a few things that the Raptors are going to have to take care of today if they want to pull this one out:
1. Shut down LeBron. SURE. Easy enough, right? Well, here’s the thing about LeBron. People always talk about his scoring ability, but let’s not forget that LeBron has led all forwards in assists for four straight years. He averaged 6 assists per game last year, averaged 6.5 against the Raptors last year and in his last four games has averaged 8.8 assists. The Raptors are going to have to make sure that they get on him quickly, but even more so, they are going to have to make sure that they stick with their men and clog up the lane or LeBron will make it a rough afternoon in Cleveland (that sounds like it could be a movie title).
2. Keep the rebounding game close. The Cavs can rebound, plain and simps. They are second in the league in rebounding and when you have the ability to put 100 on the board each night and are playing against a team that isn’t strong rebounding, it spells bad news for the Raptors. The key will be to get bodies on Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden, making sure that they have to work to get a rebound. Those are two big guys who like to bang inside and do a good job of getting putbacks to the point where I am more worried about them putting the boots to the Raptors than I am LeBron.
3. If it’s there, take the 3. I know, I can’t believe I said it either. The Raptors have a tendency to fall in love with the 3 and while sometimes it leads to wins, it also has that other side to it, where balls rattle around and the opposing team ignores them inside. With Cleveland, it’s a nightmare inside. Those are 3 big rebounding dudes inside who aren’t afraid to get a little rough if they have to and God knows the Raptors aren’t tough. With Cleveland allowing teams to drop 102 points on them and the Raptors coming in as the league’s 3-point team to beat, this might be a game where you look for some dribble penetration and then kickout for 3. Perimeter movement of the ball can also lead to some good looks from 3, so if the Raptors have some decent ball movement, they could be able to pull this out.
How nice is it to have Saturday afternoon baseketball? Looking foward to seeing how Moon handles the pressure of facing LeBron. Let’s just hope that if somebody takes Moon’s legs out from under him tonight, somebody on the Raptors steps up and at least says, “Hey, er…you can’t do that to my teammate.” Hump! Where you at?!!!