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Toronto Raptors Vs. Cleveland Cavaliers Betting Tips
By Liam Davis
Cleveland Cavaliers (-540) vs. Toronto Raptors (+410)
Sportsbooks, as you can tell, aren't worried about the Cleveland Cavaliers' defense impeding their ability to rise above what was their biggest rival in the Eastern Conference last year. But while the Cavaliers should most definitely be the favorites, the distance between them and the Raptors feels a little large.
Perhaps that's the offshoot of Toronto being forced into a Game 6 with the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. Or maybe it's a nod to the fact that Kyle Lowry once again isn't shooting well, and that DeMar DeRozan has been hot-and-cold.
Whatever it is, the Raptors aren't getting enough respect in this series. They're deeper and more versatile than they were last year following the additions of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker. More than ever before, they're built to win games in which their offense struggles—which is good, because Lowry and DeRozan are no strangers to enduring ruts in the postseason.
The Raptors finished third in points allowed per 100 possessions out of the All-Star break. They are second in that category for the postseason, behind only the Golden State Warriors. If they are going to defend like this, with an offense full of enough floor spacing to sometimes pop, they can give almost any team, including the Cavaliers problems.
This is doubly true following their starting lineup tweak. Head coach Dwane Casey swapped out Jonas Valanciunas for Norman Powell in the first round. The resulting five-man combination outscored the Bucks by 17.4 points per 100 possessions, posting top-notch offensive and defensive ratings. Powell stretched the offense by shooting 9-of-10 on three-pointers—that is not a typo—and his defense on the wings was up to snuff. He closed out hard on shooters and made life a living hell on screeners.
And yet, after noticing all this, we can't help but feel a sense of hopelessness for the Raptors. And that's where these lines come in.
The Cavaliers have LeBron James, and he is a team unto himself. He played all but 17 minutes of their first-round series sweep over the Indiana Pacers. He is once again hovering around 70 percent shooting near the rim, he's splashing in 45 percent of his three-balls, and his defense is reaching All-NBA levels when it matters most.
There are problems with the rest of the roster. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have yet to pop on the same night, and the defense of the Cavaliers' starting lineup has been absolutely awful. That five-man unit is allowing 111.4 points per 100 possessions. Though we can chalk this up to small-sample theater, they coughed up 111.2 points per 100 possessions during the regular season. This latest porousness is right in line with what we've seen all year.
Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue has responded by relying on other lineups, particularly in the second half—and it's working. Cleveland is fourth in defensive rating during the final two frames, and that mark improves to second during crunch time—defined as the final five minutes of games in which no team is ahead or behind by more than five points.
The Raptors pose a different challenge to defend than the Pacers. The former has more star power and complementary shooting than the latter. But if the Cavaliers are going to lock in down the stretch while getting otherworldly performances from James on the regular, they're going to be unbeatable—not just against the Raptors, but the rest of the Eastern Conference.
Those hoping for a seven-game set should rejigger their expectations. And those hoping for just six games might want to do the same.
The Pick: Cleveland Cavaliers (-540) in six games
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