The Eastern Conference has resembled the fight for power in Game of Thrones. Like spokes on wheel every few a weeks a new threat emerges to the Cavs. First it was the Bulls but they struggled out of the gate with injuries and learning a new offensive system. Then it was the Heat, who has not been able to find a balance with the Goran Dragic – Dwayne Wade combo and another Chris Bosh injury. During the season only one team has emerged as a true threat to challenge the Cavs in the East, the Team of the NORTH!
Since the start of 2016 the Toronto Raptors have worked their way up to second in the conference with a 19-6 record and currently sit two games behind Cleveland for the top seed in the East. The Raptors led by both Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have won the season series two games to one. In their last matchup, Lowry dropped 43 points in their two-point win on Friday night.
In their two wins vs the Cavs, the Raptors have averaged 101 points per game while shooting 40.5% from three. Lowry is averaging 31 ppg, 8.3 assists, and has a plus/minus of +3.4 in all three games vs them. In the clip below Lowry blows by the Cavs pick-and-roll defense to get to the lane for an And-1.
DeRozan is the second side of the two-headed monster having a career year in points with 23.3 ppg with 34.6% from three. Not the three point threat that Lowry is, he is attacking the paint with aggression more which has led to averaging 8.3 free throw attempts a game. Below is an example of him getting to the paint and the line.
The Raptors have a third option a post up threat in the form of Jonas Valanciunas who looks like a Game of Throne character. He is having a career year averaging 12.8 ppg and 9.2 rebounds per game. Although he does not get a lot of touches in the post he gets great post position when they do call his number. In the clip below he comes off a screen and immediately seals his defender which allows him to score easily.
The house of the Raptors is stocked, with Bismack Biyombo who is an excellent roller in pick-and-rolls. Cory Joseph is a solid back up when they need to give Lowry a breather and can also play on the court with him. Terrence Ross is a strong 2-guard option off the bench who is a capable three-point shooter that could start for many teams. Patrick Patterson has found a home in Toronto as their stretch big shooting 35.5% from three. The crafty Luis Scola is the perfect utility player for the Raptors whether it is stepping in for a charge or hustling for a loose ball or popping out for a pick-and-pop jumper, he’s their man.
The Raptors were rumored to be active at the trade deadline but ultimately decided to stand pat. It has been reported they hope to get DeMarre Carroll back from knee surgery before the end of the season to be their 3 and D guy.
This team is built to beat the Cavs and despite repeated failures in the playoffs they are determined as Lowry is quoted to have said to ESPN.com “It’s cool to make the playoffs. It’s not cool to lose in the first round anymore.” With strong play since the start of the New Year the team of the North is poised to shatter that wheel as well as the Cavs.
**Quote came from a Zach Lowe article at ESPN**