Toronto Raptors Over Cleveland Cavaliers and Friday’s NBA Playoff Picks
This is where picking the 2017 NBA Playoffs officially gets tough. A year ago the Cleveland Cavaliers looked unstoppable, as they raced to six wins to start the playoffs. The for a brief moment the wheels came off against the same Toronto Raptors they face in game three on Friday night, and they lost two consecutive games.
Even with the defending champs looking like a well-oiled machine as they head up to Air Canada Centre, we need to mind the doubt creeping into the back of our minds. The Raptors haven’t been good through two road games against the Cavs, but it’s not impossible for them to bounce back at home, just like they did in last year’s playoff series.
That series could be tough to gauge going into Friday’s NBA playoff schedule, but so is the game on the other side of the league. James Harden has to shake off an awful game two performance to try to help his Rockets take a 2-1 series lead at home in game three. Whether or not he can with Kawhi Leonard roughing him up all night remains to be scene.
Just when we’re starting to warm up to Leonard and the Spurs, San Antonio gets dealt a gut punch with star point guard Tony Parker succumbing to a knee injury:
Sources: San Antonio's Tony Parker is still undergoing an MRI on left leg now, but team expects Parker will need season-ending surgery.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA)
It isn’t known what variety of injury the 34-year old(soon to be 35) suffered, but it isn’t good and he’s done for the playoffs. With that being the case, should we suddenly be worried about the superior seed taking back full control of this series? With the next two games in Houston, logic suggests we at least need to think about it.
As we can see, the playoffs just got tricky and tonight’s series shift to Houston and Canada. Will it make a difference, or will the better seeds prevail and power their way to wins? Let’s take a deeper look for both games as we try to come away with successful NBA picks for Friday night:
The first contest on the docket is game three between the Cavs and Raptors, which has the series shifting to Air Canada Centre. LeBron James has been a flat out monster through the first two games, scoring 35 and 39 points. His assist numbers went down in game two (4), but his creating hasn’t mattered much. James cannot be stopped on his way to the rim right now, and even when he is he’s converting free throws at a rapid rate.
King James is dialed in and playing inspired ball, which has understandably leaked out to some of his other teammates. Kyrie Irving seems to be able to get to the basket or find the shot he wants at will, while J.R. Smith rose up in game two to play ridiculous defense against top Toronto scorer, DeMar DeRozan.
There has been little evidence to support the Raptors standing their ground as we approach game three, but the potential still exists. This is still a team that plays well on their home floor, can grind the pace down and can produce efficient offense. They haven’t been doing much of that on a consistent basis in this series, but they have defensive tools in Serge Ibaka, P.J. Tucker and Kyle Lowry that could potentially respond well with the series shifting to a familiar spot.
Getting behind the Raptors isn’t easy, but they will be at home and shocked Cleveland in this same situation during the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago. This is still a veteran team that has two very good isolation scorers and can defend as a team. They’ll have to find a way to force LeBron James into some difficult shot attempts, while also keeping him from getting to the free throw line too much.
This game also needs to be about pace as much as it is about quieting James, but we do know the Cavs can slow down a bit on the road and they tripped themselves up against this team last year. Toronto provides the value in this game on Friday night and if they’re going to make any noise in this series, it absolutely starts here. With nothing to gain by backing the Cavs, we’re aiming high and rolling with the Raptors playing with some fire in game three. DMR was absolutely atrocious in game two, as well, and we expect him to bounce back in a big way.
The loss of Tony Parker is a bigger deal than some might think. Parker has slipped markedly as a defender and he’s no longer as quick or as consistent as he once was, but he was still a tough cover and a nice mid-range scorer. He also can get the Spurs going by creating and giving the defense something else to deal with.
He’s gone now, which means we need to assess what Patty Mills will do as a starter and how the Spurs will react with a reliable veteran being sidelined. It’s possible San Antonio would actually improve defensively, while Kawhi Leonard might shoulder a bigger offensive load than ever. That’d be fine, too, provided it doesn’t have his defense slip (which was A+ on Harden in game two).
Objective one going into game three has to be making sure the Tony Parker injury doesn’t hurt this offense. I’m not so sure it’s crippling, as Parker has his smallest offensive role since his rookie season this year. He actually has popped off a few times (18 points in game two) during these playoffs, but Mills is probably the better, more complete player at this point of their respective careers. Mills can absolutely space the floor with his outside shooting and has proven time and time again he can run the Spurs’ offense.
The real key for the Spurs will continue to be what Leonard and the defense can do to slow down Harden. They couldn’t stop him at all in game one and stifled him in game two, which provided the obvious difference in both contests.
Leonard might win this battle in the end, but the Spurs take a morale hit with the loss of Parker and Harden and the Rockets thrive at home. Even if it’s just for one more game, Harden should bounce back and keep Houston’s offense humming as they take back control of this series against a wounded giant.
After all, Clint Capela is still operating as he pleases down low and Ryan Anderson is stretching the floor for the Rockets. Unless LaMarcus Aldridge starts showing serious signs of life in this series, it’s quickly becoming difficult to confidently back these Spurs. Vegas clearly agrees, as they’re backing Houston at home and we’re following suits. I don’t see an easy win in game three, so even with a small spread we should give the Spurs a shot at beating the spread. The Under remains the logical play with this third game being a little more intense.