2016-NBA-Play offs-Eastern Conference Finals-Game 1 preview

Eastern Conference Finals
Tip-off: Tuesday, 8:35 p.m. ET

The Cavaliers will be looking to take a 1-0 series lead with a home victory over the Raptors in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday.

The Raptors hosted the Heat in Game 7 on Sunday and ended up winning 116-89 as 4.5-point favorites. Toronto now finds itself in the team’s first Eastern Conference Finals in franchise history. The Raptors will, however, need to find their offense in this series. They have shot less than 45% from the floor in 12 of their 14 postseason games and that is not going to cut it against a Cavaliers team that is averaging 107.8 PPG during the playoffs.

Toronto went 2-1 both SU and ATS versus Cleveland during the regular season, so the team should have some confidence coming into the series. The Raptors also get to face a Cavaliers team that is just 0-9 ATS after covering five or six of its past seven games this season.

It’s not all bad for the Cavaliers, though. Cleveland is an impressive 13-3 ATS in home games after playing four consecutive games as a favorite since 1996 and this just may be the most confident team in the playoffs, as it has not dropped a single game thus far.

C Jonas Valanciunas (Ankle) is expected to miss at least the first two games of this series for the Raptors, but he is the only player that is listed on the injury report for either team.

The Raptors have showed a ton of toughness in this postseason, winning back-to-back Game 7s to get to the Eastern Conference Finals. If this team is going to have any chance of getting further than that then it will need a huge series from PG Kyle Lowry (18.6 PPG, 6.7 APG, 4.8 RPG, 1.9 SPG in playoffs).

Lowry came up big for the Raptors in Games 6 and 7, averaging 35.5 PPG and 6.0 APG in those contests. He’ll need to use his strength and ability to finish at the rim against a much weaker Kyrie Irving in this one. Lowry isn’t tall, but he does know how to use his wide body to create space for himself and that will come in handy this series. He will need to continue to shoot the three-ball well. He’s shooting just 28.3% from the outside during the postseason, but he is 12-for-21 from three over the past three contests.

SG DeMar DeRozan (20.0 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.3 SPG in playoffs) will also need to be at his best in this series. He is shooting just 35.5% from the floor in the playoffs and must be a lot more efficient moving forward. The shooting guard position is one that the Raptors have an advantage at, but DeRozan must play more like the way he did in the regular season.

One guy that could be an x-factor for Toronto is SF DeMarre Carroll (9.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.0 SPG in playoffs). Carroll will need to make things difficult on LeBron James in this series. He’s a very good defender and that’s where he can make a mark for the Raptors. Carroll can also help the team by keeping up his hot shooting from three. He’s hitting 46.2% of his outside shots over the past five games and that is helping the team space the floor.

The Cavaliers have been the hottest team in the entire postseason, but they’ll definitely need to knock off some rust after a nine-day break. If Cleveland is going to advance to the Finals then SF LeBron James (23.5 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 7.3 APG, 2.4 SPG in playoffs) is the guy that is going to lead them there. James is a threat to put up a triple-double every night and creates a size mismatch whenever he is on the floor. He’ll need to be aggressive going to the basket, as he can draw fouls or find his teammates at a high level when attacking the rim.

PG Kyrie Irving (24.4 PPG, 5.5 APG, 1.3 SPG in playoffs) and PF Kevin Love (18.9 PPG, 12.5 RPG in playoffs) are also going to be huge in this series. They are the two guys that must step their games up and help out James the rest of the way. If Irving can win his matchup with Lowry in this series then it’ll be extremely hard for the Cavaliers to lose. Irving has the ability to score on anybody, but he’ll need to lock in on the defensive end.

Love, meanwhile, should be able to dominate this series. The Raptors are extremely thin at the power forward spot and Love will need to go to work inside and also knock down his shots from the perimeter.