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.

Report: NBA not headed toward 1-16 playoff seeding

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the league would continue look at 1-16 playoff seeding.

Ken Berger of Bleacher Report:

Silver is well-intentioned on this issue, and open-minded, too—as he is on most agenda items that could, in theory, make the league better. But despite his willingness to discuss postseason reformatting, multiple people familiar with league discussions say it’s not anywhere near the top of the agenda.

After its analysis of the issue in ’15, the league concluded that, for a variety of reasons, it wasn’t sensible to change the playoff format. The two key factors, according to league sources, were 1) travel; and 2) a belief among league officials that conference imbalance was a temporary trend that would correct itself, as it typically has in the past.

For playoff qualification to truly be fair, teams would have to play a balanced schedule. As is, teams play teams in their own conference 52 times and teams from the other conference 30 times.

More 10 p.m. starts on the East Coast and 4 p.m. starts on the West Coast would hurt TV ratings.

Plus, as relative conference strength exists now and has existed for several years, 1-16 playoff seeding would make it harder for bigger Eastern Conference markets and easier for smaller Western Conference markets to qualify for the postseason.

Quality of competition matters, and there would be value in the NBA building a playoff field of its 16 best teams. But follow the money. There isn’t nearly enough urgency with this issue to overcome the direct financial setbacks reform would cause.

Draymond Green’s MRI comes back negative

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The Warriors can exhale. Their status as overwhelming championship favorites remains intact.

Draymond Green injured his knee in Golden State’s season-opening loss to the Rockets, but it appears he didn’t suffer major damage.

Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area:

Even if Green misses a little time, the Warriors should be fine. They can cruise until playoffs – maybe even a round or two into the playoffs.

Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are Golden State’s best players, but Green’s defense is so important, especially in small-ball lineups with him at center. The Warriors led Houston by 13 when Green left the game and then couldn’t get enough fourth-quarter stops in a one-point loss.

Golden State values rest and built a supporting cast around its stars to follow through. If Green misses tomorrow’s game against the Pelicans or any beyond, Jordan Bell, David West, Kevon Looney and Omri Casspi could all see bigger roles.

Report: Grizzlies starting power forward JaMychal Green out several weeks

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The Grizzlies are undefeated, having topped another playoff hopeful (Pelicans) in their season-opener.

But things seem tenuous in Memphis.

Not only is Chandler Parsons feuding with Grizzlies fans, JaMychal Green is hurt.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The supporting cast looks rickety around Mike Conley and Marc Gasol unless second-rounder Dillon Brooks (19 points on 7-of-13 shooting +17 against New Orleans) keeps humming. And maybe even still then.

Green’s injury opens the door for bigger roles for Jarell Martin and maybe Parsons (gulp).

At least Green locked in his guaranteed money. This shows why he couldn’t afford to risk taking the qualifying offer.

Booed by Grizzlies fans, Chandler Parsons says he’ll treat home games like road games

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Chandler Parsons‘ great sin? Signing a four-year, $94 million contract and failing to justify it due to injuries. He missed 48 games last season and struggled mightily while on the court.

His more recent transgression? Missing a couple free throws.

The Grizzlies forward missed a pair from the line in yesterday’s season-opening win over the Pelicans, and Memphis fans booed him:

Later, Parsons drew a three-shot foul, and Marc Gasol tried to rally the crowd behind Parsons:

Plenty of fans cheered, but as Parsons went 1-for-3, others still booed.

Parsons, via Geoff Calkins of The Commercial Appeal:

“I’ll just go into every game with the mentality that it’s a road game, if that’s how it’s going to be,” he said.

Finally, Parsons stuck up for himself, saying, “They can boo me, they can sarcastically cheer me, they can do whatever they want. … It’s tasteless , man, it makes no sense. We’re athletes, we’re human beings. I don’t know them personally, so, it’s just a little strange to me, but that’s sports.”

If Parsons didn’t understand Mavericks fans booing him after he left Dallas, he sure isn’t going to understand Grizzlies fans booing him while he’s still in Memphis.

Fans largely see Parsons as a character in the drama that is the Grizzlies – something removed from their everyday reality. Of course, Parsons is taking it personally. He’s a person, and it’s his everyday reality.

It’s unclear what portion of Memphis fans booed him. Grizzlies fans probably aren’t excited about cheering him right now, but many did – as a direct response to the boos. Even if they would’ve preferred no reaction a vacuum, those cheering fans didn’t want the boo birds speaking for them.

Parsons ought to remember those supportive fans before painting the entire home crowd as the enemy, or else he’ll turn everyone against him. None of this is fair to Parsons, who has surely been frustrated with his injuries, but he can control how he reacts to the fans.