Cavaliers-Raptors Pick: Kawhi Leonard Era Starts Well for Toronto

Tuesday, October 16, 2018 12:25 PM UTC

Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018 12:25 PM UTC

The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors both begin new eras on Wednesday night as they open the season against one another in the North.

Cleveland at TorontoWednesday, 7:30 p.m. ETFree NBA Pick: RaptorsBest Line Offered: BetOnline

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With all due respect to matchups like Pelicans-Rockets (which we also will preview here at SBR), Timberwolves-Spurs or Mavericks-Suns (two Rookie of the Year favorites), arguably the most intriguing matchup on Wednesday as most of the rest of the NBA tips off is between the Cavaliers and Raptors from Toronto.

Think about how much has changed between these teams from when we last saw them against one another.

Toronto, of course, was the East’s top seed last year and won a franchise-record 59 games. It looked as if finally the Raptors would reach the NBA Finals. Except, they just can’t beat LeBron James in the playoffs. Yet again, James’ Cavaliers ousted the Raptors, this time in a stunning four-game sweep – once Toronto choked away Game 1 of that series, you pretty much knew it was over. Cleveland would go on to reach the NBA Finals for the fourth straight season but would lose to Golden State for the third time over that span.

Now LeBron is gone from Cleveland and Kawhi Leonard is in Toronto.

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Some blocks, some dunks and some sauce.

The best of the preseason.#WeTheNorth pic.twitter.com/1aBvx3mcsM

— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) October 16, 2018
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Offseason of Change

James clearly was never going anywhere but the Lakers this offseason and should finish his career there. The Cavaliers are now projected as one of the East’s worst teams with a win total of 30.5 at SBR’s top-rated sportsbooks. Kevin Love – who surprisingly was given a huge contract extension -- and rookie point guard Collin Sexton should be the focal points now. Love, though, hasn’t played since Oct. 2 due to foot soreness so he won’t be doing heavy minutes Wednesday. Big man Larry Nance, who just got a nice extension himself, is in question with a sprained right ankle.

But signs of LeBron are still all over this team: For example, JR Smith and Tristan Thompson are clients of LeBron’s mega-powerful agent/management group and are taking up way-too-big chunks of the salary cap because Cleveland paid them way over market a few years ago to make James happy.

The Raptors fired Dwane Casey after that postseason flop even though Casey was named NBA Coach of the Year. The team promoted assistant Nick Nurse, essentially the team’s offensive coordinator, to replace Casey. But the shocker was the trade of All-Star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan and promising young big man Jakob Poeltl plus a protected first-round pick to the Spurs for Leonard and solid guard Danny Green.

Leonard was limited to nine games last year because of a quad strain, wanted out of San Antonio and had no interest in going to Toronto – he wants to play in his hometown of L.A. When healthy and motivated, though, Leonard is at worst a Top 5 player in the league and has no defensive peer.

Raptors management is hoping to sell the pending free agent on the culture of the organization, and perhaps a run to the NBA Finals could convince Leonard to stay. DeRozan was a fine player, but he tended to shrink in the playoffs and he’s not close to Leonard overall. Green is a very capable replacement for DeRozan. Even after dealing Poeltl, the Raptors still have perhaps the deepest rotation in the NBA. Toronto and Boston appear to be the class of the East with Philadelphia maybe in the mix. All three teams are in the same Atlantic Division.

  • Raptors are 5-2-1 ATS in their last 8 home games.
  • Cavaliers are 0-5 ATS in their last 5 Wednesday games.

Tough game to handicap because both teams are so different, but one probably got better while one clearly got worse. Plus, the Cavs may be short-handed. Take Toronto for a Wednesday NBA pick.

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