Raptors-Cavaliers Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated February 27, 2013
The Cleveland Cavaliers didn't have Kyrie Irving in their latest game, but managed to pull off a road win against a team they've struggled to beat. They certainly wouldn't have gotten out of Toronto with a victory last month without him. Irving won't be around to hit another game-winner Wednesday night when the Cavaliers open a five-game homestand against the Raptors, who can finish February a perfect 4-0 on the road if they can win a fifth straight in Cleveland. The Cavaliers (19-38) found out early Tuesday that Irving would miss that night's game in Chicago with a hyperextended knee he injured in practice last week. The All-Star struggled with it in games at Orlando and Miami over the weekend, so Cleveland decided to give him a rest against the Bulls. The other half of the Cavaliers' young starting backcourt stepped up with Irving out. Rookie Dion Waiters followed up his 26-point performance against the Heat with 25 in Chicago as Cleveland snapped an 11-game series losing streak with a 101-98 win. "I think Kyrie is one of those guys who is so good a lot of times you just rely on him," forward Luke Walton said. "Without him we knew we were all going to have to play a lot harder and a lot more focused. "We've been playing very solid basketball. ... We are growing and we are definitely a much better team." The team announced early Wednesday that Irving won't return for this game, surely not wanting to risk rushing the reigning rookie of the year back if he's not 100 percent. Toronto (23-34) certainly must be happy about Irving getting another night off. He had 12 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter - including the decisive 3-pointer with 0.7 seconds left - to lift Cleveland to a 99-98 win at Air Canada Centre on Jan. 26. The Raptors, who lost 90-84 to Washington at home on Monday, likely also won't mind playing five of their next six on the road. They've yet to lose away from home since acquiring Rudy Gay, beating Indiana, New York and the Wizards. Toronto won just five of its first 24 road games. "We kinda have to get back to the basics," said Gay, who had seven points and shot 1 of 11 Monday. "... This, right here, is a big stretch for us. It could make or break us." Particularly without Irving on the floor, Toronto should feel confident in its chances. It hasn't lost in Cleveland since LeBron James left, shooting at least 50.0 percent in all four meetings while averaging 108.3 points. Jose Calderon, now in Detroit as part of the deal that brought Gay to Toronto, was its star in three of those, averaging 19.3 points and 11.3 assists. Current Raptors starter Kyle Lowry hasn't had nearly as much success against Cleveland, averaging 4.2 points and shooting a dreadful 21.1 percent in his last six games versus the Cavaliers. Toronto shot under 37 percent in both losses on its recent three-game homestand, and poor shooting has virtually guaranteed Dwane Casey's club isn't going to walk away a winner. The Raptors are 1-12 when they've failed to hit at least 40 percent from the field. "We can't afford to come out and not play in a desperate mode, a hungry mode, whatever you want to call it," Casey said. "If we don't play that way, we're not giving ourselves a chance." The Cavaliers are 3-14 on the second end of back-to-backs.
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