Raptors Aim For Second Win Over Improving Cavs

Things to watch tonight as the Raptors attempt to get back to .500 in their second game of the season against the Cleveland Cavaliers (7 PM, Sportsnet, FAN590, GET TICKETS).

Not Your Season-Opening Cavs: The Raptors used some outstanding ball movement for a balanced scoring attack for a solid 104-96 season-opening win against the Cavs on Boxing Day. Toronto has maintained a relatively steady level of play ever since, despite a 1-3 record. But they’d be wise not to expect the same Cavs the second time around.

Cleveland has since gone 3-1 since its home opener (including two straight wins) and has been doing it thanks to some good contributions from their most recent lottery picks.

First overall selection Kyrie Irving clearly struggled with his shot in his debut against Toronto (2-12 FGM-A), but has averaged 16.8 points, 5.3 assists and is shooting 53.1 percent after that. Irving is fresh off a 20-point, six-assist performance in the Cavs’ 115-101 win over the Bobcats on Tuesday.

Brampton native and fourth overall pick Tristan Thompson has been a little more consistent from the start of the season and proved to be more than a handful in his pro debut. The power forward played his strongest game in Cleveland’s win on Tuesday, where he put up 16 points and nine rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench.

Time To Make Some Hay: As mentioned, the Raptors have found themselves in every one of their five matchups to date this season, including losses against the Magic, Pacers and the defending champs from Dallas.

Taking that into consideration, the Raptors have to view the upcoming period of the schedule as an opportunity to potentially rack up some wins. There are an incredible six games coming up in the next eight days, but only Saturday’s opponent, the Sixers, made the playoffs as a seventh seed in the East last season.

Combined record of the Raptors’ next six opponents last season? A woeful 148-344.

Bargnani Bringing It: Much has been made of the hot start from Andrea Bargnani, who sits seventh in NBA scoring with 22.6 points per game and has scored at least 20 points in four straight games.

To get there, the big man has played more minutes than ever before. He’s averaging a career-high 36:23 of floor time so far this season and has logged 38, 41 and 42 minutes in each of his last three games respectively. According to Dwane Casey, Bargnani continuing to respond at both ends of the floor with that heavy workload are what’s going to bring his game to another level.

With the team’s most concentrated stretch of games coming in the next week or so, it should be fascinating to see how Bargnani responds to that challenge.

End The Season Of Giving: It’s January 4th so it’s high time the Raptors got a little less generous towards their opponents. The Raptors have averaged just over 15 giveaways per contest and entering play on Wednesday, only seven teams were turning it over more on average per game.

Surviving The Run: The Raptors pulled a Snake Plissken and managed to Escape From New York victorious on Monday, but it was a third straight game where they saw a second-half lead disintegrate. The Raptors managed to execute down the stretch to hang on, but their ability to put teams away remains a work in progress.

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