NEWS
05/16/2016 15:20 EDT | Updated 05/17/2017 01:12 EDT

Casey says Raptors need to start "guns a-blazing" against well-rested Cavs

CLEVELAND — It was a seven-game drag 'em out series that featured a slew of injuries and had coach Dwane Casey comparing it to a boxing match.

And now, just two days after finally knocking out the Miami Heat in a gruelling NBA Eastern Conference semifinal, the Toronto Raptors take the court against the well-rested Cavaliers.

The Raptors tip off their first-ever conference final on Tuesday in Cleveland, against a Cavs team that has enjoyed a nine-day break. 

"You always take rest over rust in the playoffs," Casey said. "I've never been with a team that's had nine days off. Hopefully they're a little rusty and game-rusty. But sooner or later, that rest is going to kick in and be a plus for them.

"We have to go in with our guns a-blazing, playing hard and playing to our identity, and let the chips fall where they may."

The Raptors went the full seven games in each of the first two rounds of the playoffs, capped by their thrilling 116-89 victory over Miami on Sunday.

Top-ranked Cleveland has yet to lose in the post-season, sweeping Detroit and then Atlanta.

The Raptors have recent history on their side. They won the regular-season series against the Cavs 2-1, and saw big games from Kyle Lowry. Toronto's scrappy point guard averaged 31 points on 66 per cent shooting, and had the highest player efficiency rating of anyone who played at least 10 minutes a game against the Cleveland in the regular season.

But the post-season has been costly. Toronto lost starting centre Jonas Valanciunas to a badly sprained ankle in Game 3 against Miami. Casey confirmed he won't play in Game 1 and is unlikely to return for Game 2.

The Lithuanian big man is still limping badly, making it tough to see him returning at all in this series.

"I'd like to see (Valanciunas return), I'm not committing to it," Casey said. "Just have to see how his body reacts, comes through rehab. To cancel him out for the entire series, I don't know."

Without the starting centre's post-up presence, the Raptors will have their hands full with Canadian Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov.

DeMar DeRozan is also battling a thumb injury that requires wrapping during every timeout to relieve the swelling by the team's sport science guru Alex McKechnie and his famous red shoelace.

DeMarre Carroll, who was acquired last summer for his defensive intensity, was huge in containing Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson in Toronto's do-or-die Game 7. But he faces a mammoth task in containing Cavs star LeBron James. He also missed more than half the season with a knee injury, and then sprained a wrist in Game 5 against Miami.

"He's still kind of feeling his way as we go offensively, but his hustle, his hard play, his timely three-point shots are a big part of what we need and why we signed him," Casey said. "He's exactly what we need at that position, to guard some of the power threes in this league."

The Raptors will be in tough to defend Cleveland's three-point shooting. The Cavs hit 77 threes in their four-game sweep of Atlanta. The Raptors, on the other hand, were second last in defending the three in the regular season.

"That's going to be an issue," Casey said. "They're such a great transition team, such a great pick and roll team that if you try to stop everything, you can't stop anything. We have to pick our poison. They're a lethal team right now, one through five."

But while the Cavaliers are widely favoured to win the series, Casey's not buying it. 

"Every time you walk on the floor you've got to give yourself a chance. We're humble but we're hungry. I do believe we'll play hard," he said. "We'll go in confident against what I feel is the best team in the league right now as far as playing together, playing both ends of the floor, shooting the three-ball.

"In my mind, LeBron James is the best player in the league. He does so many things for his team offensively and defensively. (But) I have no doubt that our team will compete and play hard."

Several hundred Raptors fans are expected to make the trip from Toronto for Game 1. Game 2 is Thursday, then the series returns to the Air Canada Centre for Game 3 on Saturday and Game 4 on Monday.