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Five Keys: Cavaliers at Raptors

February 26, 2016
LeBron James
Ron Turenne/NBAE/GettyImages
by Joe Gabriele
Cavs.com Beat Writer

Key: Take Off, To the Great White North

The Cavaliers take their show on the road this weekend, beginning with Friday night’s huge Eastern Conference matchup with the Raptors – their third and final meeting this season.

The Wine and Gold have been excellent on the road of late – compiling an 11-2 road mark since December 28, top mark in the league over that span. The Cavs have also excelled against the Atlantic Division this season, running up an 11-2 mark so far this year. One of those wins came against the Raptors back on January 4 at The Q – topping Toronto, 122-100 – shooting 55 percent from the floor, including 52 percent from long-range. All five Cavs starters (plus Delly) notched double-figures and the Wine and Gold outrebounded the Raptors, 40-26.

It was a different story on November 25 here at the Air Canada Centre, where the Cavs dropped a 103-99 decision – going nearly six minutes in the fourth quarter without a field goal in the loss. Headed into tonight’s matchup, the Cavaliers sit 3.0 games ahead of Toronto for the top spot in the East.

Key: Pointed Discussion

Since the start of the season’s second half, Kyrie Irving has had to match up with Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson and Kemba Walker. The assignment doesn’t get any easier on Friday night when he takes on Kyle Lowry – fresh off his second straight All-Star start.

Lowry, who split Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors with teammate DeMar DeRozan in January, has averaged 22.0 points, 8.0 assists and 5.3 boards per contest since the Break. Lowry led the Raptors in scoring in both contests against Cleveland this season – including a 27-point, six-assist, four-steal performance in the Raptors’ late-November win in Toronto.

Kyrie Irving led the Cavaliers with 25 points and eight assists in Cleveland’s home win over the Raptors on January 4, and he’s also been very good of late. Excluding the “bed bug” game against OKC, the three-time All-Star is averaging 28.0 points and 6.0 assists over his last six outings.

Key: Hometown Hero

Tristan Thompson always enjoys coming back to Toronto to take on his hometown team, and the Wine and Gold’s iron man makes his ninth appearance as a Cavalier at the Air Canada Centre on Friday night.

In Cleveland’s early-season loss, Thompson finished with eight points and 11 boards; he doubled-up with 14 points, 11 boards and a block in the Cavaliers’ home win. On Wednesday night against Charlotte, Thompson tallied his team-leading 33rd game of double-digit boards – and he’s grabbed at least 10 rebounds in seven of his last eight outings. Over his last eight games, the fifth-year forward is averaging 11.0 boards per contest – including 4.7 off the offensive glass.

On Friday, Tristan matches up against the player taken one pick after him in the 2011 NBA Draft – Jonas Valanciunas. The Lithuanian big man leads Toronto with 13 double-doubles and has scored in double-figures in nine straight games for the Raptors – averaging 14.9 ppg over that span. Valanciunas didn’t suit up in the two teams’ first meeting of the season and the Cavaliers were able to keep him in check back on January 4 – holding him to just nine points and eight boards.

Key: Shooting Guards

Like Lowry, the other half of Toronto’s dynamic backcourt duo – DeMar DeRozan – has continued to improve in each of his seasons. Very few players attack the rim like DeRozan, who is currently ninth in the league in scoring (23.5), second in free throws made (392) and third in free throws attempted (468).

The two-time All-Star shooting guard has also won more games in a Raptors uniform (322) than anyone else in their franchise history. Including his 31-point outburst on Wednesday night against Minnesota, DeRozan is averaging 26.2 points per over his last five games.

He’ll face off against J.R. Smith on Friday night and, although J.R. makes most of his headlines from beyond the arc, the 11-year veteran has been very good on the defensive end this year. On Wednesday night against Charlotte, Smith posted his eighth game this year with three or more steals. Of course, Swish does make those headlines shooting the ball, and nobody this side of Steph Curry has done it better than J.R. since the start of 2016 – knocking down 85 triples since the calendar turned.

We could be in for an excellent shootout between two of the East’s most explosive players on Friday night.

Key: Bench Trial

As of this afternoon, it’s still not certain whether or not Iman Shumpert – who’s missed the previous three games with a sprained left shoulder – will be able to go on Friday night in Toronto.

The Cavaliers have gone 2-1 without their top perimeter defender, but they’d love to have him back against the explosive Raptors. Another Cavalier reserve stole the show on Wednesday night as Channing Frye, in just his second game with the team, went off for 15 points in 18 minutes – going 5-of-9 from the floor, including 4-of-8 from beyond the arc. Richard Jefferson has also been good off the bench, averaging 8.0 points per over his last three appearances – including a 15-point effort last Sunday afternoon in OKC. Matthew Dellavedova will bring his relentless attack off the bench and Timofey Mozgov finally seems to be getting comfortable in his role as a reserve.

If the Cavs are to get their fifth win in their last six outings against Toronto, they’ll need everything they can get off the bench on Friday going against a deep Toronto team. Cory Joseph and Terrance Ross are dangerous perimeter threats and Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo can be a load down low.

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