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

Raptors face uphill battle vs. Cavaliers

The second round of the playoffs was déjà vu all over again for the Toronto Raptors.

They lost the first game of the series at home (again), took a 3-2 series lead (again) only to stumble on the road in Game 6 (noticing a trend yet?)

But Sunday's emphatic win in Game 7 against Miami proved that the Raptors deserve to be in the Eastern Conference final for the first time in franchise history.

Now they'll try to take down the King.

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have been cooling their heels by the Cuyahoga River after playing the minimum eight games to sweep their first two playoff series. During that time, the Raptors clawed their way through two seven-game battles.

Toronto may be riding an emotional high after achieving what no Raptors team has accomplished before, but the overwhelming feeling about facing the Cavs is best described by another Cleveland:

It's the No. 1 seed versus No. 2, the Big Three against the Dynamic Duo, Mark Shapiro's old home versus his new digs. Let's break it down.

Going streaking

While the Cavaliers handily swept aside Detroit and Atlanta, the Raptors were battling through an up-and-down post-season. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry's recent return to all-star form has been the big storyline heading into the East final.

Over the past three games, Toronto's dynamic duo have combined to average 60.3 points, 12.3 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game. They clearly have momentum going into the series with Cleveland, but fatigue needs to be considered.

DeRozan's thumb injury and subsequent shoelace therapy are well-documented, and Lowry has played seven 40-plus minute games and only one game of less than 35 minutes out 14 playoff contests.

If and when the two have a cold night, it'll be up to players like DeMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross to fill the void in scoring.

Watch the throne

However, Carroll may be otherwise preoccupied this series.

After avenging a playoff matchup loss to Paul George in the first round, Carroll will take on LeBron James, the player who sent him and the Atlanta Hawks home in last year's East final.

Carroll did yeoman's work against several Miami Heat players, ranging from Joe Johnson and Luol Deng to Dwyane Wade. Unfortunately for Carroll, James is an amalgamation of the best qualities of those three, with the mindset of a gladiator and the momentum of a locomotive.

Oh, and he's just one-third of the team's offensive juggernaut.

Point guard Kyrie Irving and forward Kevin Love are making up for lost time after an injury-shortened 2015 playoffs. Irving leads the team in scoring, averaging 24.4 points per game, and Love is picking up good vibrations in the post with 12.5 rebounds per game in addition to 18.9 points.

Canadian content

The long-standing and not-at-all-contrived rivalry between the suburban Toronto cities of Brampton and Pickering will reach a boiling point in this series. Sort of.

Cavs centre Tristan Thompson and Raptors guard Cory Joseph proudly represent their southern Ontario communities in the NBA. While the pair may not be directly matched up with each other (barring a revolutionary defensive scheme from Tyronn Lue or Dwane Casey), it's a great chance to showcase the array of skills that Canada has on the hardwood.

And for more Canadian trivia, both the Cavaliers and Raptors were one-time employers of Anthony Bennett. Hang in there, buddy, there's still Olympic qualifiers for you.

Deciding factors

Toronto will be without home-court advantage for the first time in these playoffs. Considering they lost Game 1 at home in both series so far, that may not be the biggest concern the team has right now. Playing without their burgeoning centre Jonas Valanciunas, however, does have many people worried.

JV is out for Game 1, but hasn't been ruled out for the series. Until then the Big Friendly, Bismack Biyombo, will be relied on as the man in the middle.

Cleveland's supporting cast can be dangerous if overlooked. J.R. Smith epitomizes "hot and cold" shooting, while Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova are experts at the type of defence that infuriates opponents and endears them to Cavs fans.

Guarding against the dribble-penetration was a major weak point in Toronto's team defence against Wade and Goran "Drive-It" Dragic. If they can't force the Cavs into settling for shots, there could be a lot of new posters decorating northeastern Ohio.

It may look dire for Raptors fans, with Las Vegas and Bristol bloviator Stephen A. Smith giving the team slim odds at upsetting the Cavaliers and bringing the title to the North. But don't let 13-1 odds or Skip Bayless's better half get you down.

After all, Toronto was projected to handle Indiana and Miami with ease, and look what happened in those series.

Game 1 takes place Tuesday in Cleveland at 8:30 p.m. ET.