Cavaliers Preview: Evan Mobley holds the keys to Cleveland's success against Raptors

Toronto Raptors v Cleveland Cavaliers
Toronto Raptors v Cleveland Cavaliers / Jason Miller/GettyImages

As the Cleveland Cavaliers rise in the Eastern Conference, they visit Scotiabank Arena for one final match against the middling Toronto Raptors.

Cleveland's last game against the Raptors came in both R.J. Barrett's and Immanuel Quickley's debut in front of the Canadian crowd. The Cavs entered the game and nearly instantly looked out of sorts, falling 124-121 to a team finally entering a long-awaited rebuild. Since then, the Cavaliers have only lost one other game to the Milwaukee Bucks, building up a league-best 16-2 record in 2024.

After a 118-95 blowout win on the road against the Brooklyn Nets, the Cavaliers enter Toronto with the Association's longest consecutive win streak of eight consecutive victories. The Cavs are the NBA's hottest franchise; meanwhile, the Raptors have fallen behind the pack with the 12th seed in the East.

Over their eight-game streak, Cleveland has the league's best defensive rating (105.9) and the ninth-best offensive rating (119.3). Their two-way consistency has given them the first-place 13.4 net rating over the same span. The Cavaliers have a chance to continue their dominance and complete a perfect 4-game road trip before returning to the Land.

With a 3-5 record over the last eight contests, Toronto has slipped into a downward spiral toward the top of the 2024 draft lottery. The Raptors are in the bottom five for both offensive and defensive ratings over the last eight games, culminating in a fourth-worst -12.7 net rating. The Raptors' additions of Quickley and Barrett and the growth of Scottie Barnes give a glimmer of hope for Toronto's future, but their current state of affairs makes the Cavaliers undeniable favorites in the matchup.

While the Cavs kept their roster together at the trade deadline, Toronto was one of the biggest sellers in the league. Cleveland's continuity gives them another advantage aside from their recent upticks in efficiency and maturity.

The most important Cavalier to watch against the Raptors

Since his return from knee surgery, Evan Mobley leaped into Cleveland's spotlight with aggressive post-scoring and shocking growth from beyond the three-point arc. Mobley has connected on five of his seven three-point attempts since rejoining the squad. By improving his floor spacing, the young unicorn is making an offensive step forward that Cleveland has hoped to see since his draft night.

In his sophomore season, Mobley already established his dominance as an elite defender, controlling the weakside and stifling countless drives and moves from guards, wings and big men. His effort gave him his first NBA All-Defensive First Team honors with many more likely to come. He also finished third in Defensive Player of the Year voting. While Mobley's defense never fails to deliver, his offensive versatility dragged behind until very recently.

Against the Toronto Raptors, Mobley gains another chance to showcase his new-found energy and confidence. The Raptors traded two-time All-Star Pascal Siakam to the Indiana Pacers, taking away their best option to defend Mobley. Toronto's diminished frontcourt is creating a perfect storm for Mobley to shine once again. Jakob Poeltl will have to rotate between guarding both of Cleveland's frontcourt stars Mobley and Jarrett Allen, leaving ample opportunities for both big men to rack up easy buckets.

In his six games since returning, Evan Mobley is averaging 15.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in only 24.3 minutes due to a minutes restriction to manage his recovery. Mobley is barely below his overall season averages in significantly fewer minutes, highlighting the efficiency he is bringing to the Cavs.

If Mobley can maintain his prowess on both sides of the court, he will become an instrumental piece to Cleveland's playoff aspirations. With a relatively easy schedule remaining, Mobley has plenty of time to push himself into stardom before the postseason.

The Cleveland Cavaliers will tip off against the Toronto Raptors at 7:30 pm Eastern Time. Following the contest, the Cavs return to Cleveland to host the Embiid-less Philadelphia 76ers on Monday, February 12 at 7:00 pm ET.

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