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Valanciunas set to return as Raptors respond with full force

Here we are, back in Cleveland where the Cavs will try to redirect a towering tide Toronto has turned.

The Cavs are up against a team that plays with the same ferocity and motivation. A young and determined Kyle Lowry trying to prove himself against a redemptive Kyrie Irving, each with their share of hot streaks and arctic cold ones. Two playoff second-timers in Bismack Biyombo and Tristan Thompson, who are entrenched in a personal paint war. Blurry moments of tied series usually clear the path of Cleveland’s most featured stars to respond. No one is hopeless with a playoff LeBron, even when our leading scorer and versatile big man are struggling.

As for Toronto’s reinforcements, though not glamorous, regaining full health since its Miami mayhem last round gives this rising Raptors team potential for an upset much higher than their current 25/1 odds. Many didn’t expect Jonas Valanciunas to return to the Conference Finals let alone Toronto evening the series. Eluding to Valanciunas’ felt like a forgotten practice for Raptors fans in Cleveland’s Conference Finals home openers, as Center Jonas Valanciunas’ uncertain timetable took second to the franchise’s fleeting chances. Now, with a protected home court and a doctor’s note, Valanciunas is set to return to the court tonight in Cleveland.

RELATED: Valanciunas updates after missing 8 straight games

Valanciunas, who averaged 15 points and was the only starting Raptor shooting over 50% in the playoffs, was a game-time decision in Game 4. Now, he enters Game 5 with guarantees to make Toronto significantly more dangerous. Now with another better pick-and-roll partner for DeMare Derozan, Cory Joseph and Lowry, Toronto can turn another table in Cleveland’s preplanned Conference Finals feast. After winning rebounding and points in the paint for their home games, the Raptors will look to spread the court with Valanciunas and dominate three-point shooting; the recent disaster for the Cavaliers who have missed 55 of their last 82 attempts (ESPN).

Valanciunas has led Toronto in the playoffs on the glass and in the paint with 12 rebounds and 1.4 blocks a game. For the Cavs, it’s a change in strategy that Coach Lue has long prepared for. “We understand what he’s going to do and we went over plays they run for him,” Lue says, “but until he gets on the floor we don’t know what he’s going to give them. We don’t know how fresh he is, how he feels, his conditioning if his ankle still hurts. I’m not sure.”

RELATED: VIDEO: Bismack Biyombo has made life for Tristan tough, but he’s no Dennis Rodman

“[Valanciunas] is an offensive presence on the block. We know he’s physical down low, another great offensive rebounder and he just gives them a big body that can slow the game down and post the basketball.” – Tyronn Lue

Coupled with Biyombo’s intensity, the Raptors will now demand the highest out of Cleveland’s exposed front court. Kevin Love will need to step up tonight, along with a true playoff performance from the King. Might even see Mozgov’s first 15-minute playoff game this season.

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