2016 NBA Playoffs: NBA Eastern Conference Finals Preview

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Coming into this season there was no question the Cleveland Cavaliers were the favorites to get back to the NBA Finals, and things are seemingly working out that way. Who would finish behind them was the question. There were many teams considered for second in the east, but the Toronto Raptors ended up being that team. The Raptors are very talented and were no pushover when they faced Lebron and the Cavs during the regular season. In fact, Toronto beat Cleveland two out of the three meetings. Don’t expect them to be a pushover in this series either. But, do the Raptors have enough to have success against the Cavs in the playoffs and take that final step to the NBA Finals, or even just make this a long competitive series? Let’s take a look and examine this series a little closer.

TORONTO RAPTORS vs CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

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SEASON SERIES: Raptors 2-1

Even though the Raptors were able to win the season series, both wins took place North of the border and the loss in Cleveland was by 22 points. So, it’s hard to say either team really separated themselves from the other. It is also worth noting that all three games took place before Tyronn Lue took over head coaching duties when David Blatt was fired. The Cavs, while the only move they’ve made externally is trading for Channing Frye, are also a much different team than they were then. So, the three games probably have little relevance in this series.

KEYS TO THE SERIES

The Raptors are playing without their starting center Jonas Valanciunas for at least the first game or two, and that leaves them at somewhat of a disadvantage that they weren’t faced with against the Miami Heat. The Heat were forced to play very small when Hassan Whiteside was injured in the same game Valanciunas went down in. Playing against a bigger Cavs team with Tristan Thompson being one of the better rebounder in the NBA will be a tougher challenge. If the Raptors have an advantage in the series, it’s in the back court. While, Kyrie Irving is capable of scoring 30 on a nightly basis, J.R. Smith is as streaky a shooter as any. DeMar Derozan should have the advantage in that matchup even though he struggled early in the playoffs against the Pacers and Heat. Kyle Lowry had his struggles early in the playoffs as well. Reportedly, playing through and elbow injury, Lowry seemed to let that injury get in his head. That greatly affected his confidence in his shot and his overall aggressiveness on the offensive end. In the last few games of the Miami series, Lowry seemed to work those issues out and as a result the Raptors proved to be too much for the Heat.

DeMarre Carroll, was one of the bigger free agent signings last off-season and the Raptors are counting him to slow down Lebron. Carroll, has been successful at times doing just that. Whether, it was this season or during his stint with the Hawks. But, if he is successful slowing Lebron down in this series, will it be enough to beat what’s unquestionably the most versatile lineup Lebron has had to play with while in Cleveland? The move to promote Tyronn Lue to head coach and the move to bring in Channing Frye via trade have proven so far to be excellent moves that have playing faster and shooting three-point three-pointers at a record clip. If the Cavs keep up that kind of pace, no one will beat them. It’s imperative that the Raptors shoot the ball well in their own right. The last thing they need is the Cavaliers in transition off missed shots and turnovers. The Raptors also have to not let this moment get too big for them. Its their first time in a conference final. Can they keep their composure? For Cleveland, it’s just continue to do what they’ve done under Lue. Spread the floor and move the ball around, and run. Its insane how much better this team looks to be since Blatt’s firing. The Cavs have so many weapons and this offense has gotten the likes of Kevin Love and others much better opportunities to score.

PREDICTION

Again, this is the Raptors first time making it this far. While, they have the talent to make the Cavs sweat and head coach Dewayne Casey has proven he can push the right buttons at the right time, it just seems like too big a task for them to win this series. Lebron James is staring down an incredible sixth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. And he’s gonna get there. Cavs in 5…….

 

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