The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors are picking up right where they left off after their most successful seasons in franchise history. On opening night, the Cavaliers absolutely dominated the new look New York Knicks with a convincing 117-88 victory led by LeBron James’ triple double. Kyrie Irving scored a game high 29 points and the 3rd member of the dynamic trio Kevin Love finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds. For the Raptors, they opened their season with a 109-91 victory over the Detroit Pistons led by all-star DeMar DeRozan’s 40 points and Jonas’ 32 points & 11 rebounds. Rookie Pascal Siakam shined in his NBA debut finishing with 9 rebounds while starting at the Power Forward position.
After defeating the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Cavaliers went on to win their first NBA Championship. While many Canadian fans were beyond satisfied with a berth in the Conference Finals, must yet 2 victories over The King, the Raptor players and coaching staff were hungry to get back on the court and improve from the previous season. Their next goal is to make it to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history and possibly bring Canada its first NBA Championship Trophy. However, LeBron James has been the roadblock for the past 6 years and remains the favourite to make it out of the Eastern Conference. The Cavaliers will be a better team than last season, it is hard to deny that. The players can play much more loosely now that they have that shiny ring in their vault, the coaching position is solidified, and LeBron James shows no signs of slowing down despite turning 32 towards the end of this year. It is every Eastern Conference’s team’s goal to beat LeBron, hence why many teams made big moves this past off-season.
The Raptors brought back 11 players from their roster that won a franchise record 56 games last season. While the 2016-2017 campaign has just begun, their ultimate goal is to succeed in the playoffs. But like how an elementary school teacher will tell their students at a young age, the regular season is about developing good habits to put yourself in a good position for prime time. For the Raptors, facing the Cavaliers is just their 2nd game of the season is an excellent way to give the team eagle eye focus early on. Despite being the underdogs (which is always the case when Toronto faces LeBron), the Raptor players and fans head into this game fearless. Combined regular season and playoffs, the Raptors went 4-1 against the Cavaliers at home last season. Expect a loud playoff-type atmosphere at the Air Canada Centre Tonight.
Let us outline the keys for the Raptors beating the Cavaliers Tonight:
1.) Protect the Rim
The Raptors finished last game with 0 blocks. Yes, you red that number correctly. Losing Bismack BIyombo was a huge blow, particularly in the rim protection category. This is where Jonas Valancuinas and the young bigs will have to step up. Several Cavalier players, especially Kyrie and LeBron, enjoy penetrating the paint. If you are unable to block shots, it will be too easy for the Cavaliers offence and make it nearly impossible to win.
2.) Sound Decision Making
You cannot afford to turn the ball over against an elite team. The Raptors finished last game with 11 turnovers including 6 by DeMar DeRozan. The Cavaliers love to run out in transition so limiting these opportunities starts on the offensive end. This is where ball movement and feeding JV down low is key to successfully executing the offence. Creating space and keeping defenders on their toes will make life a lot easier for the guards.
3.) Slow Down the Big 3
Okay it’s nearly impossible to completely shut down the likes of Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and Kevin Love. However, forcing them to take tougher shots and making other role players beat you remains the strategy. You can live with players like JR Smith taking contested 3s or Tristan Thompson taking free throws.
The game tips off at 7:00 p.m. Eastern!