Ready or not

Raptors rel­ished chance to pre­pare for Cavaliers in East­ern Con­fer­ence semis

Cape Breton Post - - Sports -

Last year’s play­off prepa­ra­tion for the Cleve­land Cavaliers was like a vir­tual all-nighter, a cram ses­sion for the con­fer­ence fi­nals.

The Raptors were tired. They’d played al­most ev­ery sec­ond night for a gru­elling 26 nights straight. The fi­nal buzzer had barely sounded against Mi­ami, and sud­denly they were in Cleve­land, fac­ing a daunt­ing task against LeBron James and the rested Cavaliers.

“You’re look­ing at a dif­fer­ent­coloured jersey in one day’s time,” coach Dwane Casey said about last sea­son’s mad scram­ble. “It’s not an ex­cuse.

“(But) I’d rather have this than hav­ing to jump on a plane with one day’s prac­tice and go­ing through their per­son­nel, their plays, their sets, what we have to do with them, like we had last year.”

The Cavs caught the Raptors on their heels in last sea­son’s opener, rout­ing them 115-84. Cleve­land won the se­ries 4-2 en route to win­ning the NBA ti­tle.

This sea­son, the Raptors — who fin­ished with an iden­ti­cal 51-31 reg­u­lar-sea­son record as Cleve­land — earned them­selves a cou­ple of ex­tra days of prepa­ra­tion af­ter dis­patch­ing the Mil­wau­kee Bucks in Game 6 on Thurs­day. They open the con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals tonight at Quicken Loans Arena.

The three days be­tween has seen Toronto pore over film. They’ve watched last year’s se­ries, last year’s reg­u­lar-sea­son, this year’s reg­u­lar sea­son, and the Cavs’ sweep of In­di­ana in the first round.

“If you think about it, at this time last year, we were al­ready gone to Game 1, we’d come from a seven-game play­off to the con­fer­ence fi­nal,” Casey said. “This year is dif­fer­ent. . . we’ve had a cou­ple of days to

get ready, to men­tally de­com­press from a last tough se­ries, to the next se­ries.”

The Cavaliers have been rest­ing since last Sun­day. They gath­ered for a team din­ner to watch Toronto’s Game 6 ver­sus Mil­wau­kee.

“That’s just who we are,” LeBron James told re­porters in Cleve­land. “Try to do that at least one time ev­ery se­ries, be­tween se­ries. We did it be­fore the first round se­ries and (Thurs­day) night was us get­ting back to­gether be­fore this next round to watch the game and see who our next op­po­nent is, if Toronto was able to close it out and they did.”

Kyle Lowry, who was in a com­bat­ive mood with the me­dia Sun­day be­fore the team de­parted for Cleve­land, was asked about the ex­tra rest and prepa­ra­tion, com­pared to last

sea­son’s mad scram­ble.

“It’s a dif­fer­ent year,” said Lowry, who slouched back in his chair, arms crossed, hold­ing the mic. “They played four games their first round, we played six, two ex­tra games. Doesn’t mat­ter what the miles, what the fa­tigue is. You wanna win, you gotta play and give it your all.”

Asked what makes the Raptors dan­ger­ous, Cavs coach Ty­ronn Lue said “The two-headed mon­ster, Lowry and (DeMar) DeRozan.

“They’ve been great for the last three or four years, just putting that team on their shoul­ders and been car­ry­ing them,” Lue said. “so we’ve got to give them some dif­fer­ent looks and we’ve got to do it by com­mit­tee. It’s not go­ing to be a one-onone chal­lenge, where one per­son is go­ing to guard a guy.”

DeRozan, who av­er­aged 23.5 points against the Bucks, is “one of the best one-on-one play­ers in our league right now,” Lue said.

Not to be de­fined solely by Lowry and DeRozan, and keen to im­prove on last sea­son’s his­toric play­off run, the Raptors made a big de­fen­sive up­grade at Fe­bru­ary’s trade dead­line, ac­quir­ing Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker.

The Raptors and Cavaliers have yet to play each other with their cur­rent ros­ters on the court.

“Both of us are to­tally dif­fer­ent, so from that stand­point, you can’t get a lot from the pre­vi­ous games, ex­cept they beat us three games early,” Casey said. “Both teams are just dif­fer­ent now as far as per­son­nel, but both of us are sim­i­lar in stuff we’re do­ing.”

AP PHOTO

In this May 2016 file photo, Cleve­land Cavaliers for­ward LeBron James (right) steals the ball from Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan dur­ing the first half of Game 6 of the NBA bas­ket­ball East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nals in Toronto.

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