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Why The Cleveland Cavaliers Should Want The Toronto Raptors in The Eastern Conference Finals

The Toronto Raptors are in the midst of their best season. After finishing the regular season with 56 wins, the most in team history, the Raptors won their first round series matchup against the Indiana Pacers in a thrilling seven-game series. This was the team’s first series win since the 2000-2001 season. The Eastern Conference Semifinals has been a grueling series against the Miami Heat, and if the Raptors were to advance, it would be the franchise’s first Eastern Conference Finals in their 21 seasons of existence. Here are three reasons the Cleveland Cavaliers should be pulling for and against the Raptors to advance on Sunday.

Toronto is Inexperienced, For The Most Part

While the argument of inexperience tends to be an over exaggeration, there is some truth to the reason. The Raptors are a franchise that hasn’t won much in their history. The Raptors have only three players on their current roster that have played in a Conference Finals Series: DeMarre Carroll, Corey Joseph, and Luis Scola. Using last year’s Atlanta Hawks as an example the postseason is a different animal. The Hawks cruised their way through the Eastern Conference during the regular season, finishing with 60 wins and the top overall record, only to struggle in the postseason. Their first and second round series each took six demanding games to advance, and they could have easily been upset in either series. Ultimately, they advanced only to be swept by the Cavaliers in the Conference Finals. While comparing this year’s Toronto team to last year’s Atlanta team is unfair, the truth is inexperience is a factor. The Hawks regular season dominance had many believing they could challenge the Cavs however, their inexperience proved to be crucial. When the NBA reaches the final four, the margin for error is minimal. Not only is this year’s Cavs team better than last years, but this Raptors team isn’t as good as the Hawks were last year, making a matchup against the Raptors desirable.

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Toronto’s Two All-Stars Have Struggled

When discussing the best backcourts in the NBA, the Raptors’ two all-star guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are definitely in the conversation. However, if one were to look at their current postseason numbers, the argument isn’t so strong. Lowry is making $12 million this season and his regular season numbers justify why. He averaged 21.2 points, while adding 6.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game, all while he shot 38.8% from three, 81% from the line, and 42.7% overall from the field. DeRozan is expected to receive a maximum (or near) contract when he becomes a free agent this summer. He averaged 23.5 points, 4 assists, and 4.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 44.6% from the field, 85% from the line, and 33.8% from three. Flip the script over to the postseason and the two all-stars have yet to even show up. Lowry is averaging 15.8 points, 6.8 assists, and 4.7 rebounds per game, while shooting an embarrassing 22.5% from three, 74.2% from the line and 33.5% from the field. DeRozan hasn’t been much better. His numbers sit at 19.1 points, 2.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds on an even worse 20% from long range, 77.6% from the line, and 34.6% overall. It is no secret why the Raptors have been struggling in the postseason when their two best players cannot hit a shot.

The Raptors’ Best Player in the Playoffs is Injured

While he isn’t a household name in the NBA, Raptors’ center Jonas Valanciunas has enjoyed a coming out party in the playoffs. After being selected with the number five overall pick in the 2011 draft, Valanciunas has been a solid starter for the Raptors. However, after signing a lucrative contract in the off-season, he has ascended his game. The seven-foot Lithuanian center averaged 12.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game, and shot 56.5% from the field and 76% from the line. Those numbers have only increased in the postseason as the Raptors guards have struggled. Valanciunas’ 15 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks have been season saving. While the Raptors’ guards continue to clank shots, Valanciunas has upped his offensive rebounds from 3.1 per game during the regular season to 4.4 in the postseason. Furthermore, with their two best players struggling, the Raptors have included Valanciunas more in their offense approach. He has responded in a big way, while remaining consistent shooting 55% from the field and 75.7% from the line. Valanciunas has been ruled out for the remainder of the second round with a sprained right ankle. If the Raptors advance and Valanciunas plays, the ankle could affect his effectiveness and minutes.

While the Raptors have struggled thus far in the postseason, they still remain in the playoffs, and have given themselves an opportunity to advance to their first ever Conference Finals. The Raptors still remain a dangerous and well-coached team, and could find their rhythm as the playoffs continue.

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Here are three reasons the Cavs may not want to square off against them.

The Raptors Can Shoot with the Cavs

After playing two teams that shot below league average from three-point range during the regular season, the Raptors displayed a top five percentage. Although the Raptors have struggled mightily with their three-point shooting in the postseason, ranking 12 out of the 16 teams that qualified for the playoffs in percentage at just 29.5%, they shot a blistering 37% during the regular season, which was tied for the fourth best in the league. While the Cavs have been on a record-setting pace from behind the arc, they could potentially meet a problem if the Raptors were to find their rhythm from three. The Raptors have multiple players that can rotate between both forward positions, which gives them different lineups where they can have four shooters capable of hitting the three on the court at a time.

The Raptors Defense has Remained Consistent in the Playoffs

While the Raptors offense has been atrocious in the postseason that is only half of the game. Their defense is the reason they were so successful during the regular season and why they have a legitimate shot at the Conference Finals. They were the third stingiest team during the regular season in opponent points per game at 98.2. Throughout the postseason, their defense has been their strength. They rank fourth in the postseason in the same category at 93.8. Many factors can be related to their improves defense. The game tends to slow down more in the playoffs and in turn teams score less. Furthermore, the Raptors’ two opponents in the postseason the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat ranked 17 and 23 respectively during the regular season in points per game. It will be interesting to see if the Raptors defense will falter against the second highest scoring team in the playoffs.

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Kyle Lowry owns the Cavs

If the Raptors were to advance, chances are Lowry or DeRozan (or both) found their game and turned their postseason around. If Toronto sneaks by the Miami Heat, they will have a favorable matchup at the point guard position. Lowry was a handful for the Cavalier guards. In three regular season games against the Cavs, Lowry averaged 31 points to go along with 8.3 assists, four rebounds and 3.3 steals. Furthermore, he shot 66% from the floor (yes, you read that correctly), and 43.8% from three, leading his team to a 2-1 record. DeRozan struggled however, averaging only 15 points on 38% shooting and 33% from three. The Cavs best bet would be to try and lock up Lowry in hopes of taking him out of his game and limiting his playmaking, forcing DeRozan to carry the team.

Neither team the Cavs play in the Eastern Conference Finals should make for a tougher matchup compared to the first two rounds. It is nearly impossible, though not unheard of, for a team to be undefeated headed into the Finals. However, the way the Cavs have played in the playoffs and the way they have been scorching from long range, it might not matter who they play in the next round. The Conference Finals could be just a preparation series for the Finals, and likely will be if they play the Toronto Raptors.

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