Even though the Cavs swept through the opening series of the playoffs against the Indiana Pacers, it was not a very impressive display. The games were very close, fourth quarter leads were blown, and they had to make a 26-point comeback to win Game 3. All of this was against an opponent that was far inferior from a talent standpoint. The Pacers have one very good player in Paul George, but outside of that, their most effective player was a guy they signed as a free agent near the end of the season because no one wanted him. While Lance Stephenson has had some good moments with the Pacers, the fact is lots of teams (including the Cavs) didn’t think he was worth a roster spot.
The Cavs didn’t just flip a switch and fix their defense or stop going through costly lulls on the offensive end. They also haven’t found a way to keep from having to play LeBron 40+ minutes in order to win. Luckily, they were able to have a week off to rest up because they took care of Indiana so quickly. Unless Cleveland raises their level of play, Round 2 of the playoffs will probably get a little more difficult.
I am not worried about the Cavs advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals, but I do think the Raptors have the talent to push the Cavs a little more than the Pacers, and I could even see them winning a game or two in this series. They have some very good players starting with their point guard Kyle Lowry. Lowry is one of the best point guards in the league and is able to score off the dribble as well as create shots for others. His athleticism and playmaking ability make it tough for a below-average defender like Kyrie to keep him from having a major impact of the game. He has the ability to make Kyrie expend a lot of energy on defense which might affect his shooting ability that appeared to be a little shaky in the opening series. The Cavs will need to hope that Kyrie can at least get hot enough on offense to cancel Lowry out.
The biggest threat to the Cavs may be Demar Derozan. He has had a very good season and has the ability to get hot and score in bunches. He averaged over 27 points a game this season for the Raptors, and will surely outscore JR Smith and Iman Shumpert. However, JR has shown the ability to be a nasty defender in the postseason and will probably be tasked focusing on pestering DeRozan on the defensive end. The Cavs obviously have the advantage at small forward with LeBron especially at playoff time and with a week to rest. However, Demarre Carroll does have the size and strength to make things difficult for LeBron and try to wear him down. Honestly though, we all know LeBron is going to dominate this matchup.
The biggest difference from last year’s playoff matchup between these two teams has to be the change in the post. The Cavs took advantage of Jonas Valanciunis being hampered with injuries a season ago, and the Raptors did not yet have Serge Ibaka. These two have the ability to score and grab rebounds, but their biggest contributions come from being able to clog up the paint and protect the rim. The Cavs will need to spread them out and take advantage of Kevin Love’s shooting ability to get Ibaka out of the paint and open up the lane for driving to the hoop. Love and Tristan Thompson will also have to work hard on the glass, so the Cavs don’t give up a rebounding advantage against the size and strength of the Raptors’ front line.
Even though the Raptors have improved the talent on their roster from a season ago, I don’t see this season’s matchup going much differently. The Cavs won in six games a season ago, but the series really wasn’t that close. They lost a couple of games in Toronto but were able to win easily when they really put their minds to it. The Cavs also improved from a talent standpoint from a season ago even though they haven’t put it all together yet. The Raptors should put up a little more resistance than the Pacers, but the Cavs are a virtual lock to make it back to the Eastern Conference Finals. If LeBron gets a week to rest and prepare to face an inferior opponent in the playoffs, most people should be able to predict the result.