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Conference final First Take to gauge Raptors strength

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One of the major downsides to the NBA‘s new season is the apparent disorderly manner games have been scheduled. Games are either billed to be honored too early in the season or fixed on dates that doesn’t suit the gravity of such games.

For instance, this year’s Christmas Day games will have just a game to look out for that is the rematch of last season’s finals series between Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors. That aside, Boston Celtics will play New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs will play against Chicago Bulls.

The Minnesota Timberwolves will visit Oklahoma to play the Thunder as Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers go head on for the Staples Center Derby to round up fixtures on one of the most anticipated dates on the calendar. None of the games mentioned above make up what necessarily fits the bill of a Christmas Game.

On the other hand, Adam Silver and his associates have cooked up juicy fixtures a bit way too soon depriving fans the chance to feed off hype tales. Case in point, Golden State’s tie against Oklahoma City Thunder on November 3 is way too early for a game of such magnitude.

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In the wake of Kevin Durant’s bad break up from the Thunder and subsequent unsavory comments about the team and players, have made this tie one of the most anticipated games of the season. Despite the anticipation, having the game barely a fortnight after the season tipped off doesn’t do enough justice to address the many variables of the game; Would Russell Westbrook get into it with his former partner Durant, maybe Enes Kanter would be the one getting under the skin of Durant.

How about Westbrook’s duel with Steph Curry? Tonight’s game between reigning champions Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors falls in line with the disservice of the league’s clustered schedule. A rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference finals ought to be one that is built up through the early part of the season for it to be knocked off as intensity begins to peak.

For both sides, it will be the second outing this season after recording respective wins over New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons. The Cavs looked very good in the opening game against the new look Knicks with Kyrie Irving dazzling his way to 29 points off a strong third quarter showing. LeBron James brought the house down with a triple double of his own as he registered 19 points, 11 assists and 14 rebounds in staggered minutes in what looks to be a conscious effort to save his body from much damage in the regular season. Cleveland’s job was made easier by the opposing side’s leaky defense as it continues to grapple with President Phil Jackson’s famed triangle offense under new Coach Jeff Hornacek.

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When attacking, New York did so with more verve and pace than it did last season which led to the side sitting in the bottom half of the league, speed wise (ranked 26th out of 30) but defending James became a problem as double teams created acres of space for his teammates to exploit. After playing the Cavs, New York ranks 12th in the league in terms of pace according to Basketballreference.com. Against the Raptors, such openings look set to drop as Canada’s sole hoops representative aims to make a statement by getting a win over the champions. Despite winning two games in the Eastern Conference Finals Series against Cleveland, the Raptors aren’t viewed as a side capable of winning the division just like the rest of the field on that side of the NBA planet.

For all their achievements including a franchise record of 56 wins, housing multiple All-Stars in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan plus one of the best General Managers in the league, Toronto is yet to be at par with or even better than the champions the way Golden State and San Antonio Spurs are. Ahead of the season, the side basically rolled out a largely unchanged roster from last season’s with DeRozan and Lowry being counted on to continue their ascent. One of the few additions it brought in, Jared Sullinger from Boston for a one year six million dollar contract, will miss the game to injury which hurts the team’s chances of competing on the glass. Sullinger’s rebounding prowess is a needed tool for the Raptors to stay with Cleveland’s rebounding bigs Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson.

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Losing Bismack Biyombo in the offseason compounds Raptors lack of rim protection as the Congolese native’s strong play in the postseason prized him away from the North leaving the defensively bad Jonas Valanciunas and still developing Bruno Caboclo to protect the rim. 2016 Draftees Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam are primed to be taken through hard lessons by Thompson, Love and Channing Fyre.

Cleveland Cavaliers mission for the year is to repeat as champions and deal an early blow to the aspirations of Toronto usurping their spot on the food chain and in tonight’s fixture, they look set to to do just that.

By Yaw Adjei-Mintah

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