• Jonathan Ebrahimi

NBA Playoffs: Raptors Round 2 Preview

In a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, the Toronto Raptors will get a second shot at taking down LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Last year’s series was fairly close with the Raptors taking the eventual NBA champions to 6 games, before being ousted in a blowout at the Quicken Loans Arena. This year, the Raptors return to the playoffs with a roster that has been specifically retooled to defend LeBron James. Expect to see both DeMarre Carroll and P.J. Tucker take turns guarding the reigning Finals MVP, but don’t be surprised if you see Patrick Patterson and Serge Ibaka guarding James on occasion as well. For Toronto, this series begins and ends with stopping The King, something that no Eastern Conference team has been able to do since 2010.

For Cleveland, the mission is simple: make quick work of the Raptors in order to get some additional rest for key players. LeBron and co. know exactly how dangerous this Raptors team can be when they’re taken lightly, so expect the champs to jump out on their northern foes fast and early. Cleveland won the season series 3-1, with their lone loss coming in a game where James, Irving and Love all rested, so they have to like their chances of securing a third consecutive appearance in the conference finals.

Key Match-ups

Kyrie Irving v Kyle Lowry

By far the most exciting match-up in this series will be at point guard. Both are among the best scorers in league at their position so you can expect a lot of back-and-fourth battles between these two. Through the first round, both Kyrie and Kyle struggled with their shot at times, but found a way (albeit, different ways) to help their team win despite their poor shooting. Kyrie put the ball on the floor and got to the rim at will; whereas Kyle focused on playmaking and defense to help the Raptors dispose of the Bucks.

LeBron James v DeMarre Carroll & P.J. Tucker

As mentioned above, expect the Raptors to throw all kinds of defensive looks at LeBron James. Toronto are arguably the Eastern conference’s best suited team when it comes to defending LeBron James as they have both tough defensive-minded wing players as well as elite rim protection in Serge Ibaka. The problem is that LeBron James simply cannot be stopped. James was the best player in the first round averaging 33 PTS, 10 REB and 9 AST while being a defended by Paul George, one of the league’s best perimeter defenders.

Kevin Love v Serge Ibaka

Kevin Love and Serge Ibaka are two of the best stretch-fours in the NBA. While Love is a significantly worse defender than Ibaka, he provides more low-post offense and he is the superior rebounder. Since Ibaka will be busy keeping LeBron away from the rim, expect Love to find himself wide open for plenty of easy threes in this round. Unfortunately for Cleveland, with Love on the floor they risk giving up a lot of inside looks to a Raptors squad that scored 40% of their points in the paint during the first round.

Key Stats

41.2 – The Raptors were awful at defending the 3-point line in the first round, allowing the Bucks to shoot 41.2% from downtown, allowing 7 uncontested three per game. Milwaukee are hardly an elite 3-point shooting team so if they had trouble stopping the Bucks, imagine how much trouble they will have stopping Cleveland. The Cavs were the league’s second best 3-point shooting team during the regular season and shot 40.3% from deep in route to a sweep of the Indiana Pacers.

57.9 – LeBron has never been a great free-throw shooter, but for most of his career he’s been pretty good, shooting a career average of 74%. However, during the first round against the Pacers LeBron’s free-throw percentage plummeted to 57.9%. If LeBron continues to shoot so poorly from the charity stripe, expect Toronto to implement a Hack-a-LeBron strategy into their game plan.

75 – During their regular season meetings, Cleveland’s ‘Big 3’ of James, Irving and Love combined to score 75 PPG on 46% shooting. If the Raptors are going to advance to their second consecutive conference finals, they need to find a way of stopping Cleveland’s stars. The good news for Toronto is that all three of those games came before the acquisition of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker. After those trades, the Raptor’s defense jumped from 16th to 4th in the NBA.

Who's Going to Win and Why

Despite the new faces, it doesn’t look good for the Raptors. Dwayne Casey’s offense is just too predictable to be successful in the playoffs and their struggles against Milwaukee in the first round are going to be expertly exploited by LeBron James and the rest of the Cavaliers.

Cleveland will likely jump on the Raptors early and win the opening two games, but Toronto have enough talent to win a game of two at home. Expect DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to run wild on Cleveland’s subpar defense, but unfortunately, it won’t be enough to win the series. Cleveland is built perfectly to exploit Toronto’s weaknesses and ultimately have the two best players in the series. LeBron James is playing some of the best basketball of career in these playoffs and looks to have his eyes set on a 7th consecutive appearance in the NBA Finals.

Prediction: Cleveland in 6

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