It’s been a long 48 NBA-less hours. Why the H did the scheduling bigwigs have to do that to us? Something tells me it had to do with that other basketball game yesterday, but I can’t be certain.

We’re back with another big slate, though, highlighted by a few potential playoff matchups. Let’s get back to the grind. — Mark Gallant

 

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TOR-CLE | WAS-HOU | BOS-MIL | GSW-OKC | Quick Hits


TORONTO RAPTORS AT CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (-1) | O/U: 222

7 p.m. ET

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

What I’m watching for: Hey, no pressure, the Raptors are just melting down and lost to the Cavs last time out, and the overwhelming narrative right now is “PLAYOFF RAPTORS ARE BACK LOL.” And they’re trying to fend off Boston for the 1-seed. It’s shocking that the No. 1 seed in the East could need a win this badly on April 3rd, but here we are.

Much of this is going to come down to what lineups the Cavaliers run out. The Raptors are the one team for which Kevin Love at the 5 is just going to ruin worlds. It puts Jonas Valanciunas, who has had an excellent season, into positions such as this one:

 

A Larry Nance-Love combination actually might be easier for the Raptors to guard. Then again, that pair is a plus-20 per 100 possessions in the four games it has played together this season over 64 minutes. The combo covers for both of those players’ individual weaknesses while empowering their offensive potential.

Love’s a big weapon here, regardless. Serge Ibaka is still an impactful defender, but he freelances way too often, which will get him burned to a crisp with the way LeBron James lulls the defense in like moths to a flame and then incinerates it with his passing.

For the Cavaliers, it’s about close-outs. It’s always about close-outs. The Celtics beat Toronto last Saturday because they made great off-ball rotations and managed to get a lot of misses from good shooters such as C.J. Miles. The Cavaliers can win a shootout. But if Toronto brings its A-game defensively, the Cavs can’t just hope they can outgun Toronto. Well, I mean, they can, but covering becomes a much bigger concern.

One more thing: LeBron very rarely commits himself fully to games in this situation. These two teams are going to see each other at some point in the playoffs (most likely), and, while the Cavaliers have zero fear about Toronto, they’re still not going to tip their hand. We expect to see James assert himself and make a statement, but that’s not how he’s approached a lot of these late-season contests. — Matt Moore

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