If a team can beat the Cavs in the East, it’s the Raptors. They have the size, the strategy, the experience and the ability to create mismatches that other teams in the conference can’t duplicate. Cleveland looks like a team that is ripe for the plucking, but the Cavaliers still have James, and when it comes to taking him out, Toronto is not quite up to that job. Cavaliers in 6.
But the Raptors struggled against the Bucks’ long-limbed, pack-the-paint defense, which was effective at neutralizing the play. DeRozan averaged 10.7 points per game out of the pick-and-roll during the season, but that dropped by about three points per game against Milwaukee. Lowry, who averaged 8.5 points in the regular season, saw a comparable drop. For them, facing a Cleveland defense that has shown no progress in stopping the play will be a godsend.
For Green, checking Harden won’t be easy. Harden scored 33.2 points per game against OKC, and attacked the rim relentlessly, averaging 14.6 free throws per game. He’ll surely force Green and perhaps other Spurs into foul trouble. But, though Green will get the bulk of the minutes on Harden, he will only have to guard him in spurts, and when crunch time comes, it’s a safe bet that Leonard will wave Green off and take Harden himself. Expect the Spurs to trap Harden and get the ball out of his hands. They typically do a nice job of forcing the ball out of Harden’s hands and putting the onus on his teammates to make shots.
50.0. That’s the scoring the Rockets got off their bench in the series against the Thunder, and their ability to keep that level of work going against the Spurs will be critical to any hopes of an upset. Houston had one of the most productive benches in the league during the regular season, averaging 39.5 points from their reserves (fifth in the league). But San Antonio was right behind, ranking sixth with 38.7 points. As good as these teams’ stars are, the bench units could decide this series.