Game Preview: Raptors at Cavaliers
The Toronto Raptors will close out the regular season on the road against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Raptors come to Cleveland having won three straight and 11 of their previous 13 games. Cleveland has lost three in a row and is currently the second seed in the Eastern Conference, a game behind the Boston Celtics who are in the top spot.
Tip-off: 8 P.M. ET
Broadcast info: TSN / TSN1050
The Cavaliers earned a 116-112 victory on the Air Canada Centre floor behind a 34-point performance from LeBron James in December. The James-Kyrie Irving-Kevin Love trio combined to score 86 of Cleveland's 116 points as the Cavs withstood a 31-point fourth quarter from the Raptors.
Toronto was led by DeMar DeRozan's 31 points while Kyle Lowry added 24 points and nine assists. The Raptors reserves outscored the Cavaliers bench 39-22 in the third tightly-contested game between the two teams this season.
Finishing on a strong note
While the Cavaliers played without LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in their overtime loss to the Miami Heat on Monday, the Raptors are expecting all of their players to be in uniform for the finale.
"Everybody's gonna play," Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. "We prepare for it like we do the other 81 [games]. It's one of the 82 games, and we've gotta go in and work on our habits offensively and defensively, and go into the weekend with some momentum."
After Kyle Lowry returned to the lineup three games ago following a 21-game absence, the Raptors are most concerned with continuing to get their starting lineup minutes with each other. As a result of Lowry's rehab following wrist surgery, he's had just three games of court time with trade-deadline acquisitions P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka.
"I've said that the last couple weeks, I think we need repetitions with each other," Casey said. "The rest, rust, it's a huge issue. All I know is we've struggled going into that first game [of the playoffs in recent years]. We've rested guys and it didn't help going into the playoffs. We've got a lot of issues we're working out right now, groups, combos that haven't been together, different things we want to do with those combos, whether it's 15, 20 minutes, 25 minutes, we've gotta get a little workout."
Tucker enjoying the fit in Toronto
In his sixth NBA season, P.J. Tucker has yet to play in the postseason. Although he isn't getting ahead of himself with one game of the regular season still remaining, he did acknowledge that the feel of the postseason has already arrived following the team's practice on Tuesday afternoon.
"Yeah, it's starting to amp up now," Tucker said. "Starting to focus in. Starting to prepare, defence especially, for potential match-ups. Just getting a dialogue out there, getting our minds ready, our bodies ready."
Tucker was drafted by the Raptors in 2006-07, but played just 17 games with the team in his rookie season and then spent the next five years playing overseas before returning to the NBA and spending four-and-a-half seasons with the Phoenix Suns before being traded to Toronto in February. Despite the playoffs being a new experience for him, Tucker sounds more than ready to get things started.
"It's basketball man," Tucker said. "I don't think about any of that stuff. For me it's just getting ready for who we're playing, whoever the matchup may be. For me it's just another game."
While postseason jitters are common, the 31-year-old already has his approach sorted.
"I have to take it like any other game," he said. "I've played so many games without making the playoffs, for me I have to take it like any other game. I have to go in, give my 110 percent to the team, give it everything I've got.