Written by: Josh Gutbrod
Image: John Kuntz, cleveland.com
The Toronto Raptors are the top seed in an ever improving Eastern Conference. The team has won 55 games and counting this season (one off the franchise record of 56), has greatly improved bench play, and is still coached by perennial Coach of the Year candidate Dwane Casey. All of those positives without even a mention of the team’s talented starting five, led by 4x All-Star DeMar DeRozan. On paper the Raptors almost look like a lock to make the franchise’s first ever NBA Finals appearance. There’s just one problem: the Raptors just cannot beat LeBron James.
The LeBron-led Cleveland Cavaliers, winners of 9 of their last 10, knocked off the top-seeded Raptors last night for the second time during the team’s hot streak. The first match up saw James pour in 35 points and 17 assists (with no turnovers) as he led the Cavaliers in a ferocious comeback to lock up a 132-129 win after being down 15 points at halftime. The second, one that went much smoother for Cleveland, saw the Cavaliers ride double-doubles by James and power forward Kevin Love to a 112-106 victory. A former Raptor himself, Cavaliers point guard Jose Calderon turned in a highly productive evening himself as he finished with 19 points on 7 of 11 shooting including 3 of 5 from three.
The two losses drop Toronto to 6-14 against the Cavs over the past three seasons, including 2-8 in the postseason during that time. Worse yet, 4 of the 6 wins came during the 2015-16 regular season and postseason. That’s right, the Raptors are 2-9 against the Cavaliers dating back to the the beginning of last season. That certainly does not bode well for any team hoping to reach the NBA Finals.
Luckily for Toronto, the Cavaliers currently hold the 3 seed and will likely have to go through both a veteran Washington team and incredibly tough Boston squad before a possible rematch with the team up North. Cleveland will surely be favored heavily against Washington and possibly, to a lesser extent, against Boston as well. That being said, nothing in the NBA is ever guaranteed. Toronto will likely have two rounds to look for the Cavaliers to be knocked out by someone else before it becomes their problem. If these two Eastern Conference powers do ultimately meet again in the postseason, it could mean another early extinction for Dwane Casey and the Raptors.