Three Things To Watch: Toronto Raptors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

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It’s a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals, but with a different feel. This is deeper Raptors’ team that matches up a little better with Cleveland. These Cavs aren’t as fearsome as a year ago. Will all of that even matter? Let’s break it down with three things to watch.

1. Can the Raptors stop LeBron James from winning this series?
This is THE question of the series. The only one that really matters. In the two points below I will lay out the ways the Raptors may be able to exploit the Cavaliers’ flaws, but none of that matters if LeBron takes over games (and lifts up his teammates enough to get Cleveland wins in the process). Just ask the Pacers. Indiana had its moments and made every game close against Cleveland, but LeBron averaged 32.8 points, 9 assists, and 9.8 rebounds per game and won his team the series. LeBron has been the single best player in the postseason so far.

LeBron as the ball handler in the pick-and-roll, 2-on-2 with shooters spacing the floor, is going to be very difficult for the Raptors to stop. Toronto went out and got P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka at the deadline specifically thinking of Cleveland and LeBron. Tucker will get the bulk of time on LeBron, as will DeMarre Carroll and Patrick Patterson, and Ibaka will get switched onto him as well from guarding Kevin Love and Channing Frye (both of whom were a real problem for the Raptors when they faced each other last playoffs). The challenge with Toronto playing Tucker a lot is the Cavs don’t really have to cover him on offense, allowing easier help.

LeBron isn’t going to be stopped, but the Raptors need to slow him and force the other Cavaliers to beat them if they are going to have a chance in this series.

2. Will the Cavaliers care about defense at all? There seemed to be a sense among some fans that Cleveland “flipped the switch” and played better defense against the Pacers in sweeping the first round. No, they didn’t. For one thing, the Cavs’ sweep was by a total of 16 points, they did not dominate the series. Certainly the Cavs played better defense for stretches — a quarter here, a quarter there — but in the first round they gave up 111 points per 100 possessions to Indiana. That’s Lakers regular season defense level bad. Play disinterested defense this series and the Cavaliers will lose.

With the rest between series the Cavaliers need to have sharpened up their pick-and-roll defense — a weakness all season — because the Raptors are one of the better pick-and-roll teams in the league and they are going to go at the Cavs’ defense hard. As the series goes on Cleveland will get better at forcing the ball out of the hands of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and force other Raptors to beat them — Norman Powell and Delon Wright will need to have their moments. However, the guy that could have a big series because the Cavaliers can’t match up well with him is Jonas Valanciunas — if he breaks out this series it’s good news for the Raptors (but him against the Cavs bench will not work well).

3. Which team’s star plus bench lineup wins the day? During the regular season, Raptors coach Dwane Casey would start the second and fourth quarter with a Kyle Lowry plus the bench unit, and it outscored opponents by 14.8 points per 100 possessions. He tried a variation of that in the first round against Milwaukee (with Valanciunas off the bench) but it was basically neutral.

In the regular season, Cavaliers’ coach Tyronn Lue would start the second and fourth quarter with a LeBron James plus the bench unit, and it outscored opponents by 9.2 points per 100 possessions. That lineup saw less action in the first round sweep of the Pacers, but was plus 18.1 per 100 in the couple of games it was used.

Both coaches are going to try this again. Whichever one has better success will have a big leg up for their team in this series.

Prediction: Cavaliers in 6. Toronto is better than a year ago, Cleveland is worse than a year ago, but it doesn’t change the outcome of this series. Still, if any team in the East is going to knock off the Cavs, the Raptors have the best shot.

Lakers fan hits halfcourt shot to win $100,000 (VIDEO)

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The Los Angeles Lakers are having a pretty good January.

The team has a losing record overall but is 6-5 in 2018, despite the noise from the Ball family and the need for public confidence for Luke Walton as coach.

Still, I’m not sure they’re having as good a time as the guy who won $100,000 by banking in a halfcourt shot on Sunday.

Via Twitter:

The fan’s name is apparently Suni Strong, and he’s from Palmdale. He played high school basketball, works at Space-X, and was on a canceled A&E show about bounty hunting.

Seriously.

Via OC Register:

“When I first walked in I said have my check ready,” he said. “I knew I was going to make it. I had to.”

Asked if he called “bank,” Strong replied, “Why would I do that? I called money.”

That’s some serious scratch.

Spencer Dinwiddie hits game-winner for Nets over former team (VIDEO)

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Spencer Dinwiddie was once a member of the Detroit Pistons. They traded him to the Chicago Bulls back in 2016 for Cameron Bairstow, and the Bulls promptly waived him less than a month later. That same day, Bairstow was waived by the Pistons.

On Sunday, Dinwiddie got his revenge on Detroit by ending their matinee matchup with a step-through jumper that two Pistons failed to defend.

The play came with 4.7 seconds left and the Brooklyn Nets trailing, 100-99. Dinwiddie ran across the far side of the floor to receive the ball from the sideline, then to the near elbow before putting on a series of moves to get his shot off.

The play gave Detroit just 0.09 seconds left, and they couldn’t get an attempt off.

Brooklyn beat the Pistons, 101-100.

Meanwhile, Dinwiddie continues to have the best season of his career. He’s averaging 13.2 points, 6.5 assists, and 3.3 rebounds per-game, all career-highs. He’s also boosted his VORP to 1.1, another personal best.

Enes Kanter’s teammate told him “You’re about to get 50 dropped on you” after LeBron troll

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Enes Kanter likes to inject himself in situations he doesn’t belong in.

The New York Knicks forward likes to take aim at the biggest star in the game, LeBron James, and has said in the past that he would fight LeBron if he had to.

Some previous comments from LeBron riled up members of the Knicks organization, and there’s been animosity between the two sides ever since.

So it wasn’t too much of a surprise when Kanter had something to say on Twitter about his former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, dropping 148 points during a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday. Heck, even former Cavaliers coach David Blatt jumped in on that one, albeit immediately before his own team got 151 scored on them.

Kanter took to Twitter, using LeBron’s own catchphrase against him:

Of course, that’s probably not the best idea. Kanter is a role player and LeBron is one of the best who ever played. Even if the Cavaliers are stinking it up lately, you can’t go after the King like that. You just might miss.

Via ESPN:

“One texted [teammate] me just to say — I’m not going to say who — but he texted me ‘You’re about to get 50 dropped on you, boy.'” Kanter said before Sunday’s matinee against the Los Angeles Lakers. “I responded something back, but I’m not going to say what it is.”

Kanter added that he’s just “having fun” and wanting to put “a smile on people’s face” with his constant prodding.

We’ll see if he ends up smiling the next time Cleveland and New York meet on April 9 at MSG.

David Blatt’s troll on the Cavaliers backfires when opponent scores 151 (VIDEO)

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David Blatt, perhaps sensing his time to pounce as rumors swirl around Tyronn Lue’s departure, decided to troll the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday. It did not go so well.

Blatt, who was fired from the head coaching spot in Cleveland in 2015, now heads Darüşşafaka S.K. in the Turkish Super League.

Blatt was also coaching Team Europe vs. Team Asia in the Turkish BSL All-Star Game on Sunday. During the game Blatt joked during a TV interview that he was just hoping his team didn’t give up as many points as the Cavaliers did to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday. That game ended with a score of 148-124.

Via Twitter:

So what happened to Blatt’s Team Europe in the All-Star Game?

According to Erik Gundersen over at LeBron Wire, Team Europe promptly got rolled on with a tally of … 151 points.

The final total in the Turkish All-Star matchup was 151-142 in favor of Team Asia.

Oops.