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Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Toronto Raptors Betting Preview
Back the Cavs in six games
By Dan Favale
Cleveland Cavaliers (-540) vs. Toronto Raptors
In many ways, the Toronto Raptors are more dangerous to the Cleveland Cavaliers this season than they were last year. The first round doesn't prove it, of course. They struggled to generate offense on a consistent basis, and Kyle Lowry once again spent most of the series trying to regain his shooting form.
At the same time, the Raptors are deeper. They essentially turned a first-round pick at the trade deadline into Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, two players who up their defensive juice. Ibaka can be overrated as a rim protector, and he's not a particularly good rebounder, but he's far more reliable on the less glamorous end than Jonas Valanciunas, who has been relegated to second-unit duty.
Even aspects of the Raptors' offense are starting to come together. Their floor spacing is exponentially better since subbing Norman Powell into the starting lineup for Valanciunas. A Milwaukee Bucks team with length and an excess of explosion struggled to defend that group. A Cavaliers team that has spent the entire year waffling in and out of defensive inertia will only be more hard-pressed to stop them.
Shoddy defense from Cleveland's starting five only helps Toronto. The combination of Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson has, collectively, been bad all year, and they carried that incompetence into their first-round sweep of the Indiana Pacers.
And yet, overall, it's tough to pick against James.
We've said it before and we'll say it again: For the last seven years, a team's chances of getting out of the Eastern Conference has been decided by one question: Do you have LeBron James on your team?
If you don't, you're screwed. That doesn't change here.
James willed the Cavaliers at points in the first round. He play all but 17 minutes of the entire series, and spearheaded a second-half effort in Game 3 that saw them erase a 25-point lead. He is shooting better than 70 percent at the rim and 45 percent from beyond the arc while flirting with triple-doubles on a nightly basis.
Oh, and get this: He's defending at an All-Defense level once more. Chase-down blocks are a thing again, and though the Cavaliers don't like to put him on the opposition's best scorer full time, they do have him checking anyone who's hurt them down the stretch—from wings and bigs to even point guards.
It's unreasonable to expect the Cavaliers' defense just to come together. They will lose a couple games in this series, and there will be times when the Raptors' defense, which ranks second in points allowed per 100 possessions for the playoffs gets the best of them.
But the line on this series has moved in the Cavaliers' favor since it was intially released. And the odds will keep moving. That's not a knock against a Raptors. It's just the reality of facing the Cavaliers.
They remain the standard for Eastern Conference greatness, and the Raptors, given their seesawing production on the offensive end when forced to operate in the half-court almost exclusively against teams that know to trap their three-point shooters, just don't have the requisite firepower to hang with a seasoned superpower like Cleveland.
The Pick: Cleveland Cavaliers (-540) in six games
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