When the March Madness picks are set each season, it's never surprising to see the Gonzaga Bulldogs on the shortlist of potential NCAA Tournament champions.
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Wednesday Night Redemption: Can The Spurs And Raptors Prevail?
By Liam Davis
Cleveland Cavaliers (-7.5) vs. Toronto Raptors (+7.5)
Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey made a mistake in Game 1: He put Jonas Valanciunas back in the starting lineup. The move was rooted in trying to combat the Cleveland Cavaliers' frontcourt of Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson. He thought the combination of Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka would be more valuable than Normal Powell and the latter.
He was wrong.
The Raptors still lost the defensive rebounding battle, 39-35, while squandering the floor spacing they built up in the first round against the Milwaukee Bucks. Powell still ended up playing over 20 minutes, but it wasn't enough. His time on the court, though, was evidence of why Valanciunas can't be: Powell was a plus-14 in just over 20 minutes of action; Valanciunas was a minus-21 in roughly the same amount of time.
Though JV adds size and rebounding to the Raptors' frontcourt, he's not made for this series. The Cavaliers run four-out lineups at all times, and Toronto gets reduced to three-out combinations when Valanciunas is sharing the floor with DeMar DeRozan, who still won't let 'er rip from beyond the arc. Mix this with Kyle Lowry's playoff-long shooting struggles, which he masks by becoming more of a facilitator, and the Raptors have some serious problems.
That's why Casey can't trot out the same starting five—and he won't. Multiple reports have him thinking about benching both DeMarre Carroll, who has been a non-factor for much of these playoffs, and Valanciunas. Granted, some of those same reports have him replacing Valanciunas with rookie Jakob Poeltl, which doesn't solve anything. But, ultimately, Casey will realize he needs to run smaller for longer, even if it's not from the jump, so that the Raptors can force the Cavaliers to be the team making adjustments.
We saw Toronto make miniature run in Game 1 after falling behind by as much as 25 points. And playing small is how it worked. Expect the coaching staff to make the necessary tweaks to ensure Game 2 is much closer.
The Pick: Toronto Raptors (+7.5)
San Antonio Spurs (-5) vs. Houston Rockets (+5)
Are you worried about the 27-point drubbing the San Antonio Spurs suffered at the hands of the Houston Rockets in Game 1, on their home floor? You're not alone.
And you're not necessarily wrong.
The Spurs couldn't get a hold on the Rockets after the first quarter. They let them drill 22 three-pointers overall and were constantly carved up in the pick-and-roll. Head coach Gregg Popovich didn't do anything to tinker with his rotation when the Rockets were off to the races, either. He went with traditional frontcourts all the way, with two bigs. It didn't matter that Houston was running with not only one big, but oftentimes no conventional tower, instead favoring five-out units. San Antonio still had two of Pau Gasol, David Lee, LaMarcus Aldridge and Dewayne Dedmon on the court at all times.
Something has to give in Game 2. The Spurs have been exploited by more athletic teams too many times over the last two or threes to maintain a refusal to budge. Popovich has to consider playing Kawhi Leonard at the 4 with one of Dedmon and Aldridge at the 5, plus three shooters around them. It's the only way they're going to effectively counter the Rockets' three-point barrage.
Knowing how smart the Spurs are, we have to count on them regrouping the right way. Even if it's only a matter of ensuring they will get back on defense much quicker following missed shots on the offensive end, they should end up doing something, anything, that guarantees this next tilt is a victory.
San Antonio is too good to fall into a 2-0 series hole, so we're betting Leonard detonates on offense while the defense figures out how to defend James Harden pick-and-rolls a little bit better.
The Pick: San Antonio Spurs (-5)
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