TORONTO (AP) The Toronto Raptors seem to have everything in their favor to enter their postseason matchup against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
You are rested. The Raptors feel ready. You have home advantage.
But they were confident before heading to the playoff showdown with James and coming up short twice.
"Must go through the best to win this trophy," said All-Star Guard DeMar DeRozan. "Every step of the way, where we will meet someone."
The Raptors open their second round of the playoff series at home against James and the Cavs on Tuesday night. Cleveland has eliminated Toronto in two direct posts, including the 201
But this time around, Toronto is the top seed team in the East after a team-record 59-win season. The Raptors had dropped out of the first round since winning the Game 6 against Washington last Friday night, while James and the Cavs had pushed to the limit when they won Game 7 over Indiana on Sunday.
Contrary to 2016, when Cleveland had eight days off before facing a team from Toronto that had played seven consecutive games. Or last year, when the Cavs had a week off waiting for Toronto to win six games in the first round against Milwaukee.
"They come from a series in which they played seven games and" Raptors guard Kyle Lowry. "I think our energy was great and I think the days off will definitely have helped us a bit."
James has now taken a heavy load for the Cavs and hit at least 40 times three times in the first round. He played 43 minutes in Game 7 and was briefly sidelined due to leg cramps in the second half.
Nevertheless, Raptor coach Dwane Casey expects James to be completely fresh as soon as Tuesday's typing arrives.
"I do not think he's tired," Casey said. "He's on a mission, I'm not saying he's a liar, but I do not think he's tired."
These Cavs also have no all-star guard Kyrie Irving anymore, while Toronto has a new one Focusing on ball movement and 3-point shooting
"We have a great chance ahead of us to show how good a team we've been," said Lowry. "We are ready."
DeRozan agreed, saying it was "no question" that the Raptors are better prepared for Cleveland than in previous years.
"I feel it," DeRozan said. "We all have that trust in ourselves."
Some other things to see in the series between the Cavaliers and the Raptors:
Lowry and DeRozan began to rest before their first round with the Wizards was even over. Lowry played 31 minutes in the clincher and DeRozan 33 when Toronto's Deep Bank took over in the fourth quarter. The reserve unit was strengthened by the return of the Guardian Fred VanVleet, who had missed every three to three minutes of the first five games due to a sore right shoulder. Pascal Siakam led Toronto's bench with 11 points in Game 6, while the Raptors outperformed Washington 29-14 in the fourth.
"That's the kind of intensity we need every quarter, every time we step on the floor," Siakam said. "That's what we want, only able to abate our opponent and physically play."
HOME SWEET HOME
The Raptors matched Houston with an NBA-leading 34-7 home record during the regular season, winning all three home games against Washington in the first round. Toronto's two victories over Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals 2016 came north of the border, and his only victory in three encounters with the Cavs this season was at home, a 133-99 victory on Jan. 11.
"They are a very tough team that plays well at home," said Cavaliers striker Kevin Love. "They are another team, like Indiana, who can play in different ways, they have picks and pops that are a bit unorthodox and can play inside or out, and they have a lot of guards, especially the two guys in Lowry and DeRozan
Cavs manager Tyronn Lue used four different grid positions against the Pacers, but the one he was in game 7 might stay awhile. Lue launched Kyle Korver alongside James, Love, Tristan Thompson and J. R. Smith – the four remaining players from Cleveland's 2016 championship team. The move was as smart as it was desperate, but it worked. Now Lue, who had 34 starters this season, has something to draw on if things do not go as planned against the Raptors.
"We've been in situations before," James said about Game 7 starters. "We've played big games before, so it's a comfort to start the game."
Pausing backbreaks Cavs guarded George Hill three games against Indiana, but he returned in Game 7 and sparked Cleveland. Hill hit the wheel and finished 11 points – nine in free throws – and had six rebounds and three assists while playing the last 19 minutes. He not only gives the Cavs another ball handler to pressure James, but a dependable veteran with playoff fights with San Antonio and Indiana. The 31-year-old has played in 87 postseason games, starting at 75.
"George is a really good player," said Lowry. A healthy Hill will help them. "
Hill had one of his best games with Cleveland against the Raptors on March 21, scoring 22 points.
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers of Cleveland contributed to this report.
Additional AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball