TORONTO -- The Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers have become familiar foes in the Eastern Conference, in the regular season and the playoffs.Fittingly, they will open the season Wednesday night in Toronto, however with different looks.
The Cavaliers no longer have LeBron James, who is with the Los Angeles Lakers.Among the missing from the Raptors is DeMar DeRozan, who was traded to the San Antonio Spurs in a deal that netted Kawhi Leonard andDanny Green.The Raptors also have a new coach in Nick Nurse after Dwane Casey was fired and took over as coach of the Detroit Pistons.
James, a four-time MVP, averaged 27.5 points last season, so Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said he feels that he knows what is required."We have to do it by committee," Lue said. "We're going to need five or six guys in double figures and I think we have that ability."He said it means playing an up-tempo game."We're going to have to and if not, guys are going to sit down,"Lue said. "We've got to play with pace. That's the style we want to play, everyone's involved that way, I think everyone has fun playing that way."
Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith has been listed as doubtful for the season opener because of a sore right elbow. He had an MRI Monday that showed no structural damage.Cleveland center/forward Larry Nance Jr., recently signed to a four-year contract, has been dealing with a sprained right ankle but practiced Tuesday."It's feeling great," Nance said. "Made a ton of progress. It's still black and blue, but it feels great. I ran around, jumped,blocked a couple shots (Tuesday) so I feel good doing everything.We'll see what (Wednesday) brings."
Nance is expected to share the role of starting center with TristanThompson, who will likely be used against the bigger centers.The Raptors were 4-1 in exhibition games.Giving up their leading scorer and fan favorite DeRozan for Leonard, who can depart after one season, was a risk that the Raptors were willing to take after repeated playoff failures.
Nurse said he feels that the Cavaliers could be dangerous even without James, whose brilliance was a major barrier to the Raptors progressing deeper into the postseason in recent years."I think the thing with Cleveland is they're going to come in with an edge because James isn't there and they want to prove to the world that they can play a little bit without him," Nurse said. "I think I remember that Miami a couple of years ago (after James left) came out of the gates kind of like gangbusters, moving the ball and playing faster and doing all this stuff they wanted to do."
Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry said not knowing what to expect from Cleveland is a concern."They're probably going to play a different brand of basketball than we're used to seeing, so we have to be prepared for anything,"Lowry said.
The Raptors are getting one of the top players in the league in Leonard, but he hardly played last season because of a quadriceps injury."So, you just need to play basketball, you know what I mean?" Leonard said. "Get in a rhythm, understanding what your schedule is, what you have ahead of you, and basketball starts coming easy.It's about finding a rhythm and getting games under my belt."
Nurse would not reveal his starting lineup for Wednesday."We've gotten a little closer to who we're going to run out there (Wednesday), but we're still not definite as to who the starters are," he said. Delon Wright is questionable for Toronto because of a left thigh injury. Leonard, OG Anunoby, Green, Serge Ibaka and Lowry are the likely starters for the Raptors. Cedi Osman, Kevin Love, Thompson, Rodney Hood and George Hill are the possible starters for Cleveland.
Tipoff from Toronto is at 7:30. Hear the game on WTAM 1100 AM and 106.9 FM, and on 100.7 WMMS.
(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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