Cavs seek to exact revenge from Raptors
CLEVELAND -- The Toronto Raptors want to be where the Cleveland Cavaliers have been the past three seasons.
And they're certainly off to a good start with a five-game lead signifying their firm grip on first place in the East.
The Raptors also handed the Cavs, the three-time-defending champions in the East, their worst loss of the season when they beat Cleveland 133-99 on Jan. 11. The rematch is Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Cavs aren't in second place. They are third in the East, one-half game ahead of Indiana and 6 1/2 behind Boston. Cleveland's coach, Tyronn Lue, took a leave of absence to deal with a health issue. The Cavs traded six players Feb. 8, and the full roster they want to take into the playoffs has yet to play a game together.
Kevin Love returned Monday after a 21-game absence because of a broken bone in his left hand. He scored 18 points and the Cavs won for the third time in four games.
But LeBron James was quick to put a wet blanket over any idea that the Cavs were gaining a sense of who they are or can become as the playoffs approach.
"We've got four guys out still," said James, who posted a 40-point triple double Monday in the win over Milwaukee. "(We're) nowhere near close."
James, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, led both teams Monday night in points, rebounds (12), and assists (10) for the 51st time -- passing Wilt Chamberlain as the all-time leader in such games. He's averaging a triple double over the last 18 games.
Not only is James playing like a monster and Love is back, but Tristan Thompson (sprained right ankle) and Rodney Hood (lower back strain) were upgraded to questionable for Wednesday's game. If they play, the Cavs' injured list would be down to Larry Nance Jr. (right hamstring) and Cedi Osman (left hip flexor strain).
Kyle Korver will also miss Wednesday's game after the death of his brother, Kirk, on Tuesday following a brief illness.
As these players return, the need spots in the starting lineup or rotation. Only, Lue is away from the team and Larry Drew is coaching in his place.
"I'll talk to Ty," Drew said. "We'll talk about it. He's got the final say-so. Whatever he wants, then that's what we're going to go with."
The Cavs have beaten the Raptors in nine out of the last 10 games in Cleveland, counting the playoffs. But Toronto is certainly rolling now.
The Raptors beat the Orlando Magic on Tuesday night while All-Star and leading scorer DeMar DeRozan sat with what the team said was a right thigh bruise. Bench sensation Fred VanVleet also missed the game with a hand bruise.
Toronto has won 19 of 21 games and has third-highest scoring offense and third-rated defense in the NBA. Kyle Lowry led the Raptors with 25 points on Tuesday.
DeRozan was one of three Raptors players and coaches ejected in a loss to the Thunder on Sunday. DeRozan was ejected for arguing with officials, and he pressed the issue after the game.
"We're used to going against the odds every step of the way," DeRozan said. "It's been like that. We fight through it, but as soon as we say something, we're the bad guys, we get fined, we get criticized. Every single night when we play we fight against all the odds. We still prevail, but we've all got a breaking point and it's frustrating."
Updated March 21, 2018