Toronto at Cleveland
Time: 6 PM CT (ESPN)
Spread: CLE -1.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
Much ado about the fate of free-agent-to-be LeBron James: Teams are already posting billboards and beginning their recruiting campaigns, while this season wanes and it could possibly be LeBron’s last in his home state. James got his way at the trade deadline when the Cavs basically restructured its entire team, but the results have been mostly mediocre. It may be the time in James career when he finally realizes that he cannot win without two superstars (like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) by his side.
While that is no knock on Kevin Love, James’ Cavs this year are less talent than the teams he played with in Miami, and though he did win a title two years ago, few are expecting a return to the Finals, never mind an improbable win over the stacked Golden State Warriors. It is no fault of James, though, really.
He has played excellent basketball and is still arguably the most dominant offensive force in the league. His stats obviously support that, as he is averaging 27 points, eight rebounds and nine assists per game while posting an extra-worldly PER of 28.0.
Love has been a solid second-fiddle with 17.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, but in order for Cleveland to really contend, he would nearly have to revert to the form he once showed as a Minnesota Timberwolf. The Cavs did make a couple nice additions at the trade deadline by adding former Cavalier legend Larry Nance’s son, Larry Jr., as well as Jordan Clarkson.
The Cavs also parted ways with the declining Wade, sending him back to Miami to finish his career. Perhaps the most clutch additions were those of George Hill and Rodney Hood, but neither has been outstanding since coming to Cleveland. The Cavs now have the odd task of adding so many players and trying to gel and reach form in a matter of a month and a half before the postseason.
One-time MVP Derrick Rose is firmly out of the picture, and perhaps now Cleveland is done adding washed up veterans in hopes to keep LeBron afloat. Maybe the Cavs just let LBJ walk and rebuild their team around Hood and Nance, and whatever lottery picks they obtain with the pick it picked up at the deadline.?To be certain, it would require a near-miracle for James and company to usurp the Warriors’ title hopes, and few are picking Cleveland in any respective series against Toronto or Boston. The ship has simply sailed for the Cavs; most likely, anyway.
Toronto is now gaining steam as a legitimate contender to take the Eastern Conference crown. The Raptors are 29-6 at home and 24-12 on the road, while having gone 35-8 against Eastern Conference teams this season. Ostensibly, that spells “Conference Champs.”
The Raptors are hot, their bench is deep, and the only real questions revolve around the past playoff failures of its outstanding backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Both are playing the best ball of their respective careers, but will it continue in the postseason?
DeRozan is averaging a career-high 23.7 points per game and tallying 5.2 assists from the 2-spot. Lowry is good for 16 points, 5.7 rebounds and 6.5 assists while posting a PER Of 19.2. The Raptors have a strong 11-man rotation, with all rotation players seeing at least 15 minutes per game. Serge Ibaka has declined as a defender, but is still a solid power forward and he is backed up by the promising Pascal Siakem.
Rookie OG Anunoby is a strong defender at the 3-spot, giving the Raptors essentially what it had hoped for when it parted ways with small forward DeMarre Carroll. The Raptors are a team nearly bereft of overt weaknesses. Jonas
Valanciunas may not have improved much, but is a strong center and Jakob Poeltl is improving as a backup to Jonas in his sophomore season. CJ Miles is an outstanding role player and three-point marksman. There is just so much to love about the Raptors depth, it is really just a matter of whether DeRozan and Lowry can continue their respective stellar play past the end of the regular season. There is really no way to guess.