The last time the Cleveland Cavaliers (12-32) took on the Toronto Raptors (16-27), it made me look at how Kyrie Irving played defense completely differently. Sure, I knew Irving had troubles with defense before, but in the previous meeting I watched the Raptors Jose Calderon own Irving in the pick-and-roll game. Calderon is a solid veteran, but he is not even close to being the player that Irving is. Tonight is the night we see how much, if it all, Irving has improved on the defensive end of the floor – not to mention a chance for the Cavaliers to go on their first three-game winning streak of the season.
Opponents Blog: Raptors Rapture
Venue: Air Canada Centre – Toronto, Canada
Tipoff: Saturday, January 26 at 7 p.m.
Betting Line: Raptors by -6.5
Where you can watch: Fox Sports Ohio
Where you can listen: WTAM (1100), WFUN (970 AM)
This game also marks a homecoming of sorts for Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson, who hails from Canada. On the inside, expect Thompson to have a big game. There is no one on the Raptors roster that can rebound like Thompson does. Coming off a game where he only played 28 minutes (3.6 below his season average), I am expecting Thompson to be fresh. I did like that he got some rest, but I hope Coach Byron Scott goes back to playing him 30-plus minutes a night. As the Cavaliers best inside player, he needs to be on the floor as much as possible.
As a whole, there is a lot that could be improved from the last time these two teams met. In a 113-97 loss, six Raptors scored in double figures, and Toronto shot a cool 50 percent from beyond the arc. As mentioned before, a lot of that started with the stellar play of Calderon, who led his team with 23 points. Off the bench, guard Alan Anderson really hurt the Cavaliers, as he scored 18 points. If the Cavaliers hope to win tonight on the road their overall defense will have to be improved. Three pointers will need to be contested, as will their overall pick-and-roll defense.
This game is definitely one that the Cavaliers can win. Irving is playing the best basketball of his career as of late, and I am very intrigued by the addition of Marreese Speights to the roster. On the inside, the Cavs now have a three-deep rotation again, which they have been lacking since Anderson Varejao got hurt. That means we will see different lineups, and players like Thompson will remain fresh for any fourth quarter arction.
If the Cavaliers are to win tonight, it will be about defense. Toronto cannot be allowed to get open looks, and Irving will need to contain Calderon as best he can. Expect this to be close, and decided in the fourth quarter. And I think we all know who will have the advantage there.