On paper Toronto is the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
However after another victory over the Raptors, the Cleveland Cavaliers once again showed that they are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.
Cleveland is now 14-5 against their Canadian foes over the last 3 seasons, including an 8-2 mark in the postseason.
LeBron James had his way for most of the night, scoring 27 points on 13 shots. The four-time MVP also added 10 rebounds and 6 assists.
But the unsung hero last night was Cavaliers point guard Jose Calderon, who scored a season-high 19 points on 7-11 shooting. Toronto paid little attention to Jose early on and he made them pay.
Cleveland is now 24-8 with Jose as a starter. Calderon seems to be taking over the role Matthew Dellavedova had with the Cavaliers. Playing all 94 feet, pressuring the other team’s guards, providing energy and knocking down timely shots.
Unlike in the last matchup, the Cavaliers defense showed up for the majority of the game. In their March meeting, the Raptors scored 79 points in the first half, this time Cleveland limited them to 52 points first-half points.
Cleveland also shut down Raptors All-Star guard Kyle Lowry, who went just 2-11 shooting and scored just 5 points. While the Raptors other All-Star DeMar DeRozan scored 19 points, the Cavaliers defense limited him to just 13 shots.
The one area of concern against for the Cavaliers when they face the Raptors is slowing down their bigs. Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas combined for 33 points and 22 rebounds.
While Cleveland’s main concern is slowing down the Raptors All-Star backcourt, they will need to also pay attention to the Toronto big men. With size not being a strong point for the Cavaliers it will take a team effort to keep Valanciunas & Ibaka in check.
Kevin Love continued on his torrid pace since his return. The All-Star forward scored 18 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. All five starters for the Cavaliers scored in double figures, while the bench added only 19 points.
While regular season and postseason games are quite different from one another, something has to be said for the Cavaliers dominance over Toronto.
Raptors vs Cavs in a nutshell pic.twitter.com/2XGeqMs4oZ
— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) April 4, 2018
Much has been made about the Raptors new look and new style they have played this season, but against the Cavaliers, Toronto seemingly reverts back to their old ways.
As in most series, the Cavaliers have the ultimate trump card, LeBron. As we saw tonight, no one wearing a Raptors uniform can even slow down the four-time MVP.
LeBron set (another) record in the ball game against Toronto last night. He now has 2,138 points this season, which makes it the most amount of points scored in a player’s 15th season or later.
Just another feather in the cap for LeBron, who is having a career year.
How The East Is Shaping Up
If the Eastern Conference playoff scenario holds to form, Toronto and Cleveland will not meet until potentially the Conference Finals.
With only four games remaining until the real season begins, the Cavaliers seem to be rounding into form. After a rocky campaign for much of the season, Cleveland is now 9-1 in their last 10 games.
The Wine & Gold are almost 100 percent healthy now as well. Only George Hill remains out for the Cavaliers and he should be ready to come playoff time.
This Cavaliers team is deep and talented, it will be difficult for the coaching staff to set a playoff rotation with the way the team has looked in the last few weeks. We may even see a 10-man rotation for Cleveland come playoff time, as it is hard envision anyone in the rotation not seeing time once the postseason begins.
All three point guards, Hill, Calderon and Jordan Clarkson all deserve minutes. Jeff Green, Kyle Korver, Rodney Hood and J.R. Smith have all had their moments of success this season. Larry Nance Jr and Tristan Thompson will see minutes since the Cavaliers lack size down low.
Add LeBron and Love to the mix, that gives the Cavaliers 11 players that could all potentially see the floor in the playoffs.
Having that kind of depth is definitely an asset, but Cleveland needs to use that asset the correct way. It will likely benefit the Cavaliers to set a rotation and stick with it to avoid any chemistry issues come playoff time.
Cleveland may have the benefit of tinkering with their rotation in the first round, but after that the competition will get tougher and the Cavaliers can ill-afford to have any lineup issues in May or June.
That will be the task of the Cavaliers coaching staff, and hopefully a healthy Tyronn Lue is able to come back an work some magic in the NBA’s second season.
The Cavaliers are peaking at the right time, and with the playoffs less than two weeks away that postseason excitement is beginning to fill the air once again.
Although this team looks drastically different than just a year ago, if they all buy in to the same, collective goal, Cleveland could find themselves in the Finals for a fourth straight season.
It is all a matter of energy and effort, and if the Cavaliers bring it on a nightly basis, there are not many teams that can slow them down on their way back to competing for an NBA championship.