The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors will begin their second round playoff series tonight at 7:00 p.m. in Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena. The two teams had an identical regular season record of 51-31 with Cleveland owning the head-to-head tiebreaker. The two teams have become very familiar with one another after facing off in last year Eastern Conference Finals. The Cavaliers won the series 4-2 and punched their ticket to the NBA Finals where they were then able to bring Cleveland its first championship in 52 years. The Toronto Raptors are looking forward to a chance at revenge, while Cleveland looks to continue its recent success against the Raptors.
The Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Indiana Pacers in four games during the first round of the playoffs. LeBron James continued his streak of wins in the first round of playoff series to 21 games. While most playoff teams have been fighting to stay alive this last week, the Cavaliers have been enjoying some much-needed rest. LeBron James has played more games than any other player over the past several seasons with his six consecutive finals appearances, so he knows the importance of rest. Rick Noland of The Chronicle asked James for his thoughts on the second round and the importance of rest in the playoffs.
“I’m ready to get this thing going, but obviously I’m not going to rush the process. We’ve got a couple more days to prep and prepare. That’s good for our team. It gives me a mental break. Physically, I am who I am. I’ve played so many games over the years, the best break for me is when I’m done.”
With eight total days of rest in between playoff games, Cleveland expects to be well rested and prepared for a Raptors team who brings back much of the same roster from last years’ matchup.
Toronto defeated the Milwaukee Bucks in a hard fought first round series 4-2 led by the leadership of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. After falling behind early in the series 2-1, the Raptors rallied off three straight wins to secure a spot in the second round of the playoffs. With their series ending last Thursday, they look to carry their momentum despite having much less rest than Cleveland. The Raptors’ franchise has never made the NBA Finals and know if they are to make it, they must make it past the defending champions.
Many teams often try to leave past season woes in the past, but Toronto has made it known they have not forgotten the way last season had ended. Last season, the Raptors fell behind 2-0 against the Cavaliers including a blowout loss on the road in game one. If the team hopes to have any chance in this series, they must get off to a strong start against Cleveland. Arden Zwelling of Sportsnet caught up with several Raptor players before tonight’s matchup with the Cavaliers and specifically quoted DeMar DeRozan on what he expects heading into tonight.
“We know what it was like coming into this building last year for Game 1. The atmosphere shouldn’t catch us off guard at all tonight,” DeRozan said. “We should be able to come out composed and understand what we have to do.”
Many have already pegged Cleveland to make it to the NBA Finals for a rematch with the Golden State Warriors, but the Toronto Raptors may not be as easy as an opponent as people think. LeBron James has dominated the Eastern Conference for the better part of a decade now, but Toronto now has experience in the playoffs against James and the Cavaliers. No one is saying the Raptors are going to walk out of this series with a ticket to the Conference Finals, but expect it to be a much closer series than the Cavaliers first round series.
[Featured Image by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images]