The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Toronto Raptors will meet in a rematch of the 2015/16 Eastern Conference Final with both teams bidding to reach the same stage this term.
The Cavaliers are striving to become the third team since the turn of the millennium to win back-to-back NBA Championships – following in the footsteps of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat.
LeBron James is the common denominator two of those success stories, having achieved the feat during his tenure with the Heat three years ago. He is now locked on attempting to secure his fourth title and his second with his hometown club, with only three teams standing in his way to glory.
The Raptors will provide a stern test, boasting outstanding talent of their own in the form of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Cleveland had too much firepower for them in the post-season last year, but Dwane Casey’s men will be eager to knock the defending champions off their perch.
We’ll now look back at how both sides progressed to the Semi-Finals and break down the odds for their upcoming series.
The Cavaliers stumbled over the finish line towards the end of the regular campaign, losing their last four regular-season matches. As a result, Tyronn Lue’s men missed out on the top seed to the Boston Celtics and were pitted against the Indiana Pacers in the first round.
Cleveland will have been slightly concerned about their form heading into the contest, with the Pacers capable of producing an upset due to the presence of Paul George.
The two sides battled out a close game in their opener at the Quicken Loans Arena, with George and his team-mates matching James and company score-for-score. Indiana almost came within striking distance, but the Cavs hung on to secure a one-point victory.
Lue’s men found their form in the second game of the series with Kyrie Irving taking centre stage, scoring 37 points, while Kevin Love put in a complementary performance. George attempted to keep the Pacers in the game, but it was not enough to stop his side slipping to a six-point defeat.
James took over the contest in game three on the road, rallying his side from a 26-point deficit. He put on a clinic dominating all over the court, with 41 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists, putting the Cavaliers in complete control of the series, despite a 36-point effort from George.
The Cavaliers completed the whitewash in game four of the series at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, with James putting another strong offensive display in to guide his team over the line.
Should Cleveland remain on song with James, Irving and Love at the peak of their powers – there is not a team in the Eastern Conference that can match them.
The Raptors put forward a strong performance in their clash against the Cavaliers in the playoffs last season, and they will need all that effort and a lot more to topple the defending champions.
Burnout could have been an issue for the club last season as they were taken the distance in their two previous contests before the Conference Finals last term by the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat.
This time around the Raptors had similar issues with the Milwaukee Bucks, who gave Casey’s men all they could handle over six matches.
The towering frame of All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo put Toronto on the back foot immediately at the Air Canada Centre as he mustered a 28-point performance to guide the Bucks to victory in game one as the Raptors failed to fire on offense.
DeRozan and his team-mates responded with an improved outing in game two, although Antetokounmpo ensured that the Raptors were forced to graft their way to level the series, holding out for a 106-100 victory.
Issues emerged once again around the net for Casey’s side in game three as Milwaukee’s defensive play stifled DeRozan and Lowry, allowing Khris Middleton to guide the Bucks to the win.
However, the Raptors managed to kickstart their surge to the Semi-Finals by delivering a stoic performance of their own in an 87-76 win on the road before Norman Powell rose to the occasion in game five with a 25-point outing to deliver a vital victory.
DeRozan returned to his best at the critical moment as he just did enough to steer his side into the last four, despite a valiant effort from Antetokounmpo in a 92-89 win for the Raptors.
Cleveland dominated the opening three matches of their series during the regular season, with one victory on home soil and another two on the road.
The Raptors did manage to defeat the defending champions in Cleveland in their final meet in April, but they will know that only a flawless string of performances will be good enough to secure the win.
After a drop off towards the end of the campaign, Cleveland’s big three began to find their best form against the Pacers. James and Irving found their rhythm, delivering for the team with big points-scoring outings and the series against the Raptors will require them to remain at that level.
DeRozan and Lowry have the ability to put points on the board, especially the former, which could provide difficulties for Lue’s men if they are not on form in their defensive duties.
However, over the course of the series – it’s extremely hard to look past the Cavaliers due to the firepower they possess. Toronto did put a couple of strong defensive performances against Antetokounmpo, but the quality will only increase against James, Irving and Love.
As a result, backing Cleveland to win the series -526 is the only logical option to take with Sportsbet Sportsbook.
Casey’s men have the ability to nick a game or two, which could make life interesting – therefore taking the 4-2 scoreline at +375 is the punt to take – along with six-game series at +240 .
Cleveland Cavaliers To Beat Toronto Raptors
Cleveland Cavaliers To Beat Toronto Raptors 4-2
Series To Be Decided In Six Matches