A rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers will meet up in the semifinals this time in what should be an entertaining seven-game series. The two teams should still have bad blood for each other from what transpired in last season’s conference Finals, which lasted six games that were physical and closely contested.

Raptors much-improved defense

The Toronto Raptors added a couple of key defensive pieces at the deadline for this purpose. They brought in P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka to bolster their defense against LeBron James and company. They acquired Tucker specifically to match him up against James, and Ibaka to protect the paint from James and Kyrie Irving’s rim attacks.

Toronto must rely heavily on the defensive end against a potent offensive team like the Cavaliers. Just like in the last three games versus the Milwaukee Bucks, the Raptors need to use a collective team effort to prevail. They have a tougher matchup, but the adjustment Dwane Casey made last series by inserting Norman Powell into the starting lineup in place of Jonas Valanciunas has made the team more versatile on both ends.

Well-rest LeBron James

The Cavaliers had a lengthy rest, which was well deserved and much needed. Now that they are fresh except a more energetic LeBron James, who will look to be aggressive from the start. When James is well rested and focused, his mentality changes on the offensive end.

He does not settle for long-range jumpers but instead attacks the paint and draws fouls. The Raptors must prepare for an assertive version of James rather than passive, and they will have their hands full.

Second chance opportunities

Second chance opportunities are going to be crucial in this game and for the entire series.

The Raptors cannot afford to give the Cavaliers resilient offense extra opportunities to score, which means they must box out to secure defensive rebounds. Typically, in close games, the difference maker for Cleveland is Tristan Thompson due to his ability to corral offensive boards for second chance points.

If the Raptors are going to downsize, they must pay close attention to Thompson, who hustles and scraps for rebounds.

The battle of the stars

While we could all expect Irving and James to be efficient, we don’t know what to expect from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The two stars have had a wonderful year, but they’ve had their ups and downs during the playoffs. They haven’t been consistent, which could be troubling if that trend continues tonight against the Cavs.

DeRozan and Lowry must each score over 20 points to have a fighting chance against Cleveland. They cannot crumble under pressure and much match the intensity of James and Irving. Obviously, the Raptors will be counting on their two All-Stars to carry most of the offensive load, so Lowry and DeRozan must be sharp and efficient all game.

The battle between the Raptors and Cavaliers is a little different this time since Toronto made a few changes to the roster. However, the intensity should remain the same from last season. Game 1 is set to tipoff at 7 pm Eastern Time on TNT.

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