With only four teams left, it's now a much more appropriate time to peak over to the opposite side of the bracket as the Oklahoma City Thunder could potentially face off against the winner in the NBA Finals.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have breezed through their opening two rounds so far. After sweeping both the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks, the Cavaliers have played the minimum number of games possible (8) to reach the Eastern Conference Finals.
Their opponent is the Toronto Raptors, who have had to scratch and claw their way to this point. The Raptors opened the postseason with a seven-game tilt against the Indiana Pacers and followed that up by once again going the full seven game stretch against the Miami Heat. Meaning they have played the maximum number of games, 14, to make it to this point.
The Cavs come in at full strength while the Raptors may be without big man Jonas Valinciunas for a couple games. Toronto is making their first Eastern Conference Finals trip in franchise history, hoping that they can keep LeBron James from returning to the NBA Finals for a sixth consecutive time.
05/17 AT Cavs
FORECAST: Overcast with a 45.416 Percent Chance of Showers
Cleveland has looked like a team on a mission through two rounds. Their big three of LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving have played better together than at any point since they came together in the summer of 2014. They clearly are the most talented team in the Eastern Conference.
For their part, the Raptors gave them problems during the regular season--especially in Toronto. Toronto took two out of the three meetings, but as we saw last night, and as Charles Barkley repeated again and again, the regular season doesn't matter now.
What does matter is momentum and Cleveland is so hot right now from deep. They are making an absurd 45.416 percent of their threes as a team and with JR Smith, Richard Jefferson, Kyrie Irving, and Channing Frye all shooting ABOVE 50 percent. It probably isn't fair to critique David Blatt too much, yet with Ty Lue now seemingly have molded the Cavs into the Golden State Warriors East this team has stroked their way through whoever they played.
Toronto was the second best team in the East all season, but probably should've lost to the Pacers and then let the Heat stick around longer than necessary. The length of the Heat series, however did result in one positive: Kyle Lowry got his groove back. Lowry was a beast in the final three games against Miami and was a beast against Cleveland this season too. The Raptors will need big efforts from their star backcourt of Lowry and DeMar DeRozan if they want to keep this series interesting.
PREDICTION: Cavs 117, Raptors 94
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: Kevin Love
After missing most of his first postseason when he suffered a shoulder injury against the Boston Celtics, Kevin Love has returned to the second season with a vengeance. He's averaging 18.9 PPG and 12.5 RPG while shooting 44.4 percent from deep. This is the K Love that LeBron was expecting to show up when he left Andrew Wiggins out of his Sports Illustrated "Coming Home" letter. This is the K Love that most of the basketball world was wondering why Golden State wouldn't part with Klay Thompson for. If Love can continue to play at this level--theres also room for improvement, he's only shooting 29 percent on two-pointers--Cleveland could very well sweep their way to the NBA Finals.
05/19 AT Cavs
FORECAST: Partly Cloudy With Scorching Hot Temperatures
Another game, another Cleveland victory--which would push Tyronne Lue ahead of Pat Roley for the most consecutive playoff wins in a playoff debut.
The Cavs are due to regress back to the means in terms of their perimeter shooting, and it's on the Raptors to pounce on Cleveland whenever this game happens.
However, Toronto hasn't been shooting too hot either. And Cleveland presents a different defensive situation than either the Pacers is Heat were able to bring to the game. His name is LeBron James. For the great work that Paul George did against DeRozan in the opening round, James is capable of doing that against both Lowry and DeRozan when he is locked in.
PREDICTION: Cavs 115, Raptors 113
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: Kyrie Irving
The smooth dribbling, lane penetrating, guard has been able to remain his attack-first self with King James taking over more of the distribution role offensively. Irving has never been known as a solid defender, and if the Cavaliers leave him against Kyle Lowry, the former Villanova product could be a thorn in Cleveland's side all series. To combat this Irving must be at his best when his team has the ball. If he can match or even outscore Lowry then that whole matchup becomes a wash and I don't think DeRozan plus any other Raptor can have an equal effect on the game as Love and James.
05/21 AT Raptors
FORECAST: Lows in The Teens With A Windchill of -5 Degrees
We head to The Six and besides more live shots of Jurassic Park, I don't think much will change in terms of who wins and losses. That said any life that the Raptors have will be shown during this two- game home stand.
Terrance Ross, Patrick Patterson, Bismack Biyombo and DeMarre Carroll need to show that they can bring their best when the lights get the brightest. The Cavs supporting cast has seemingly had it on easy street throughout the playoffs just waiting behind the three point line for the next kick out. If the Raptors"others"--as Shaquille O'Neal refers to them--can bring the fight to Cleveland's role players than Toronto has a punchers chance every night.
PREDICTION: Cavs 112, Raptors 104
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: JR SMITH
The reemergence of JR SWISH is one of the best stories in the NBA. Smith is only three years removed from being the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year, but after winning the award as a member of the New York Knicks his shot seemed to fail him much of the next season. His struggles lead to him and teammate Iman Shumpert being sent to Cleveland where they've both seen a revitalization in their games. Smith set the Cavaliers team record for three pointers made in a season (204) and has been even better from three I'm the postseason (51 percent in the playoffs compared to 40 percent in the regular season).
05/23 AT Raptors
FORECAST: Potential for blankets of snow showers
The desperation of an 0-3 deficit brings the return of Jonas Valinciunas! Big Jonas and a hot Kyle Lowry help Toronto capture a home win with their backs against the wall.
The Cavaliers could very well already have their minds on a return to the NBA Finals. No team that they have faced off in this postseason has put much fear into them. The Pistons got their attention with tough and gritty play, but they didn't have the offensive power to capitalize in the end. The Raptors don't play anything like Detroit and they rely on some tough and contested jumpers from DeRozan to facilitate their offense.
The Raptors have quietly ascended to the top of the Eastern Conference and their fans have helped to create one of the greatest atmospheres in all of professional sports. Yet, when it hits the fans their team just doesn't have enough to truly get them over the hump in the end. This team is too prideful and confident to get swept and as long as they play their best they will take at least one game from Cleveland.
PREDICTION: Cavs 98, Raptors 107
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: DeMar DeRozan
My boldest prediction from this piece goes here: Game Four will NOT be DeRozan's final game as a Raptor. Throughout the year it's been second nature to suggest that DeRozan will leave T Dot for a bigger and more star-friendly market (COUGH: Los Angeles). However, much like the case with Kevin Durant, on the surface there really isn't any place that as constructed now represents a better or significant increase of title aspirations out there in free agency. Teaming back up with Lowry, hoping for better health and more development from Valinciunas and an incoming lottery pick will keep this team atop the East next season and for the foreseeable future.
05/25 AT Cavs
FORECAST: Sunny With A Slight Breeze
Something, something, something LeBron James.
Something, something, something Cavaliers three pointers.
Something, something, something Lowry and DeRozan missed shots.
Something, something, something Cavs advance to their second NBA Finals in as many years.
PREDICTION: Cavs 122, Raptors 113
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: LeBron James
If LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers can advance past the Raptors, it will mark James' sixth straight appearance in the Finals. That's the second longest consecutive streak behind Bill Russell's 10 trips in the 50's and 60's. An argument can be made that what LeBron has done is more impressive. During Russell's run there were so few teams in the league that it meant less teams challenging for trips to the NBA Finals. While the East now might be lesser as a whole than what Bill Russell and Red Auerbach dealt with then, there's something to be said for winning 18 playoff series in the last six seasons. James has long been criticized and scrutinized for not being as successful as some of the other all-time greats in the postseason, but how about we take a step back and appreciate the modern day greatness that King James has displayed since he was a junior in high school.