- Raptors’ Marc Gasol to miss this game with hamstring injury
- Darius Garland to return for Cavs after missing last game
- Raptors have beaten Cavs by combined 40 points through first 2 meetings of season
|Raptors||-10 (-110)||-550||Over 221.5 (-110)|
|Cavaliers||+10 (-110)||+400||Under 221.5 (-110)|
The Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers have enjoyed their fair share of playoff battles over the years, but it could be a while until we see them square off in the postseason again. Since LeBron James left Cleveland for Los Angeles in the summer of 2018, these franchises have been trending in starkly different directions.
The Raptors won the first title in franchise history a season ago, with Kawhi Leonard leading the charge in his first and only season with the team. The Cavaliers, in the first season after James’ departure, finished tied for the second-worst record in the league at 19-63.
While the Raptors may be a little worse and the Cavs might be a little better than they were last season, Toronto is still the only one in the playoff chase. Cleveland may surpass last season’s win total, but their 13-35 record is still among the worst in basketball. Toronto, meanwhile, owns the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at 33-14 despite having dealt with a number of injuries to important players all year long.
The Raptors are sizable 10-point favorites on the road in Cleveland tonight. The game has an implied total of 221.5 points at BetOnline.
Nick Nurse’s Tight Rotations
The Raps are still among the best teams in the league, but the roster isn’t as deep as last year’s title-winning squad. The departures of Leonard and Danny Green left sizable holes. Kawhi and Green were both starters, so Nick Nurse was forced to make some adjustments.
So far this season, he has relied extra heavily on his starters. Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet both rank in the top-6 in the league in minutes per game. Pascal Siakam is 16th in the same category, but he was in the top-5 before his recent injury. Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell have both started plenty of games with the team dealing with injuries, but they’re really the only two trusted options off the bench when Toronto is at full strength.
We’ll see if the heavy workload for the starters winds up costing the Raptors come playoff time. The 82-game schedule is grueling enough, and we have seen players (notably Lowry) struggle with stamina once the playoffs get started.
Toronto has unsurprisingly had no issues with the Cavs in their two previous meetings. The Raps picked up a 133-113 win over the Cavs in Toronto on December 16 before a 117-97 triumph on New Year’s Eve. This will be the first meeting of the season between the teams in Cleveland, where the Cavs are are just 6-18 on the season. The Raptors, meanwhile, are 16-7 on the road.
Cavs’ Weird Core
The Cavs found themselves in a weird spot when James left town last season. Kevin Love is still in the midst of a lucrative, long-term contract. However, LeBron’s decision to leave essentially forced the Cavaliers to kick off a rebuilding effort. So, Love is in the strange spot of being in the prime of his career, yet stuck on a team with no aspirations of winning.
The frustration has boiled over for Love at times this season, and many believe he’s ready to be traded. Whether the Cavs cave to that request remains to be seen before the trade deadline in a few days, but moving Love would certainly be in the best interests of all parties.
Even with Love in the fold, the Cavs are getting a solid campaign out of second-year guard Collin Sexton. While he doesn’t do much beyond scoring, his scoring is a pretty necessary attribute for a team as offensively-inept as Cleveland. The Alabama product is averaging 19.5 points per game on the year, but so far in January he’s upped his average to nearly 23 points. His blazing 46.4 percent shooting from 3-point range is almost surely unsustainable, but it has been good to see him making progress on the offensive end of the floor.
The rest of the roster is a strange mix of young and old. Darius Garland, Larry Nance Jr. and Kevin Porter Jr. are intriguing young prospects, while guys like Love and Tristan Thompson don’t seem to fit the team’s long-term plans.
The Cavs are one of the only teams in the league that ranks near the cellar in both offense and defense. Cleveland is 25th in offensive rating, averaging just 103.2 points per 100 possessions. They’re also second-worst in defense, allowing 113.4 points per 100 possessions. Obviously, that’s not a combination you want.
Even with this game taking place in The Land, it’s hard to imagine how the Raptors don’t smash the Cavaliers for the third time tonight. Marc Gasol missing takes a major defensive presence out of the paint for Toronto, but replacing him with Ibaka isn’t a big step back, if it is a step back at all. Ibaka is more than passable as a rim protector, so I doubt Gasol’s absence suddenly leads to a layup line for Cleveland in this one.
Picking a team to cover a double-digit spread on the road in the NBA is a difficult decision, but I think it’s clearly the right one. The Raptors have plenty of offensive firepower with Ibaka, Lowry and VanVleet, and we’ve already seen them put 250 points on the Cavaliers through their first 2 meetings of the season. The Raptors’ implied team total of 115.5 points is one of the highest marks on Thursday’s NBA schedule.
Bet the Raptors to cover.