Originally written on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 4/6/12

Can Tristan raise his game and his team in Toronto?

It doesn’t seem like that long ago. It was the day after Christmas, a time  of hope, inspiration, and holiday cheer. And on that Monday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers walked from the swirl of the unknown into reality. We didn’t know what to expect of this team. Kyrie Irving wasn’t the Irving we know today. He was just an idea, and a hope.

Opening night for the Cavaliers didn’t go as most followers of the wine and gold had hoped. Irving had a rough debut and the Cavaliers played pretty poorly in losing to the Raptors. In the weeks that followed, though, we saw glimpses of what this team could be. We saw Irving grow into the almost certain rookie of the year. We saw a team show a phenomenal spirit, a level of fight that kept them in games against far superior opponents and even lead to some big wins against playoff caliber team.

One other thing became clear, too. The Toronto Raptors are like kryptonite to the Cavaliers. No matter how well the Cavaliers could look at their peak, the Raptors were always there to bring out the worst in the Cavaliers.

And so it is that things come full circle. Tonight, the Cleveland Cavaliers (17-35, 13th in the East), losers of 9 straight and 12 of 13, travel to Toronto to play against their nemesis, the Raptors (20-35, 11th in the East). Of course the Cavaliers have to try to avoid a 10 game losing streak by beating the team who started this season off on the wrong foot.

The Cavaliers are severely short handed. No Kyrie Irving, no Anderson Varejao, no Boobie Gibson. Of the original starting lineup on opening night, only Anthony Parker and Antawn Jamison, the two oldest starters of course, remain. That once deep and highly effective Cavalier bench is non existent, some due to moving into the starting lineup, some injured, and some traded.

Call it what you will. Call it tanking, call it talent deficiency, call it giving up. Whatever the case may be, the Cavaliers are in a big time rut right now with no end in sight. What I want to talk about, then, is opportunity. This is a time of opportunity for certain members of the Cavaliers. Tristan Thompson has an opportunity to step up and win Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for April, giving the Cavaliers all 4 Rookie of the Month awards. Alonzo Gee has an opportunity to prove that he can make an impact on the game even when the team’s stars are not available. Donald Sloan has an opportunity to prove that he really can be Kyrie Irving’s backup PG next season. Omri Casspi has an opportunity to prove that he can be a valuable bench player. Manny Harris has an opportunity to prove he belongs in the NBA and can provide consistent scoring off the bench.

Above all else, though, the Cavaliers have an opportunity to end this losing streak. Sure, the Raptors have won 3 straight and 4 of their last 5 games. Sure the Raptors are mostly healthy. But they’re without Jerryd Bayless, who is out with a torn oblique. And no matter how much more talent Toronto has right now, this is still professional basketball. The Cavaliers are a team of professionals, and it’s time for them to start acting like it. I know it’s been a tough season and the mounting injuries are taking their toll on team psyche. But the pride and confidence of professional athletes should carry through.

This is all about opportunity. Losing is one thing, but losing in the manner in which this team has been losing is simply unacceptable. It’s up to these players to seize their opportunities in front of them. It’s up to these players to say “next man up” and come out and give a good, consistent effort for an entire game. Do that, and who knows, the Cavaliers just might be able to pull out a win against a pretty mediocre Toronto team. Talk about an opportunity.

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Image Credit: David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images

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