The Toronto Raptors (23-34) will visit the Cleveland Cavaliers (19-38) on Wednesday – 7:00 PM tip – in a matchup between two of the Eastern Conference's most improved teams this month. After abysmal starts to the season both clubs have turned things around in February. Toronto has won seven of 11 games after acquiring Rudy Gay from Memphis and Cleveland is 6-5 this month, winning 10 of its last 17. However, the home team will be in for a challenge playing in the second night of a back-to-back once again without the services of their best player.
The Cavs will be missing leading scorer Kyrie Irving for a second straight night as he continues to rest a hyperextended right knee. The All-Star point guard, sixth in the league scoring 23.3 points per game, was sidelined for Tuesday's 101-98 victory in Chicago and is due to miss his 13th game of the campaign in Wednesday's home tilt against the Raptors. Cleveland is 3-9 without the reigning rookie of the year in its lineup. The teams have split the season series at a game apiece, each winning on the road. Cleveland took the last meeting, 99-98 at the Air Canada Centre on January 26th, thanks to Irving's game winning three-pointer with less than a second left.
- The Raptors are looking to bounce back following their worst outing of the Rudy-era, a 90-84 home loss to Washington on Monday. Toronto shot just 37 per cent in the game and its offence was predictable and stagnant, a growing concern since the Gay trade was consummated. With Gay in the lineup, the team has relied less on the pick-and-roll while leaning heavily on one-on-one and iso sets that limit the ball movement they became accustomed to with Jose Calderon running the show. The Raps have recorded 19 or fewer assists in seven of 12 games since the trade – averaging 18.5 during that stretch – after averaging 25.1 and dishing out 20 or more dimes in 22 of the previous 23 contests, all with Calderon in the starting lineup. This is a product of the team understandably playing to Gay's strength as a go-to scorer on the block but also speaks to the absence of Calderon and the different skill-set that Kyle Lowry brings to the table. The team has recorded more turnovers than assists in eight games this season – five of them prior to the trade – and Lowry has been the starter in seven of those contests (Not surprisingly, they have a 1-7 record in those games, the only win coming in the lone Calderon start).
- With Gay struggling to the tune of 1-for-11 shooting, seven points and five turnovers in Monday's loss, DeMar DeRozan put the Raptors on his shoulders pouring in 25 to lead the team. DeRozan, a player many believed would have trouble co-existing with Gay on the wing, has scored 18 or more points in eight of 11 contests since the trade. The Raptors' guard has also attempted six or more free throws in a career-best six straight games.
“With Rudy there the floor is open. They've got to send one of their best defenders to guard him so there's more space to drive. That's the biggest thing that Rudy has brought to the table, is the space that he gives the ball and also to DeMar.”
-- Raptors coach Dwane Casey
- Toronto has won three in a row on the road for the first time in more than five years. The last time the franchise was victorious in four straight away from the ACC was Mar 22-Apr 5, 2002. In their 18-year existence, the Raps have never finished a month undefeated on the road but will have an opportunity to do just that in Cleveland on Wednesday. The Raptors haven't lost at Quicken Loans Arena since 2010, averaging 108.3 points in four wins since LeBron James bolted for Miami. But these Cavs are no walk in the park. Cleveland is 8-2 in its last 10 games against Eastern Conference opponents, including a perfect 5-0 at the Q.
“We've got to come out and play mad, desperate and with that hit-first approach. We can't get back on our heels and let Cleveland attack us defensively. We can't let them attack us offensively either, we've got to be the hit first guys.”
- With Irving on the shelf, rookie Dion Waiters carried Cleveland over the Bulls Tuesday with 25 points in an efficient 10-for-16 performance. Although Waiters has struggled against the Raptors this season – averaging 7.0 points on 30 per cent from the field – he has begun to turn the corner of late. The fourth overall pick in last year's draft is scoring 19.8 on 54 per cent shooting in his last five games. After putting up career numbers last month, Brampton-native Tristan Thompson has been mired in a shooting slump in February. A 49 per cent shooter on the season, Thompson has misfired on more than half his attempts in seven straight contests. The second-year forward is averaging 11.2 points and 9.2 rebounds, starting all 57 games for the Cavs this season.