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LeBron James is no psychic, but Cavaliers look destined to finish off Raptors

By Joe Vardon • May 4, 2017 at 3:30 PM

CLEVELAND, Ohio — There is little in history or recent statistics to suggest this Eastern Conference semifinal between the Cavaliers and Raptors is anything but over.

Cleveland holds a 2-0 lead and has never lost a series in which it won the first two games (13-0).

LeBron James also has never lost a playoff series in which he's lead 2-0; add in his Miami days and he's 19-0 in these situations.

James also has won at least one road game in 27 consecutive series. He doesn't have to extend that streak for the Cavs to get back to the conference finals -- they could just win games 5 and 7 at home, where they are 17-1 dating to 2015 in the East playoffs.

But if James were to keep his road streak alive, the Raptors would have to win both of the games remaining at The Q. And they've been destroyed there not only in this series by an average margin of 16.5 points (the games weren't really that close), but every time they've played a postseason game in Cleveland since the start of the 2016 conference finals.

So the odds are long, perhaps astronomical, for Toronto to come back and win this series, barring a catastrophic injury on the Cavs. The 125-103 win for Cleveland in Game 2, in which the Cavs set a playoff franchise record for points, seemed to underscore the notion.

But the Raptors do have a chance to make it interesting, like they did last season. And that's where the Cavs' focus is, or should be, with the series shifting to Toronto for Game 3 at 7 p.m. Friday.

"I addressed it in the locker room after the game," coach Tyronn Lue said. "We was in this same position last year. Last year we won both of those games by a combined 50 points the way we did again this year. We can't take this team lightly. They're a good team and we know that."

Cleveland is just the second team in NBA history to start consecutive postseasons 6-0, joining the 1949 and 1950 Minneapolis Lakers. No team has ever gone 8-0 to start consecutive playoffs; a Cavs sweep in this series would make them the first.

The Cavs did indeed win games 1 and 2 of the Eastern finals over the Raptors by a combined 50 points, and then went to Toronto and lost the next two by a combined 31.

Cleveland's margin of victory so far this season is 33 points, but, again, the Cavs' largest lead in Game 1 was 25 points and 30 in Game 2.

The Raptors were overmatched then, and certainly seem to be again. But for one bad weekend in Toronto last year, the Cavs lost their focus in the din of the Air Canada Centre and found themselves tied.

"We understand it's going to be tough, but we all understand that we are a different team as well," said Kyrie Irving, who is averaging 23 points and 10.5 assists in this series. "Last year I don't think we had the right mindset going into Toronto for Game 3 and 4 and they really handed it to us, got the crowd involved and it was just really loud in there. For us, we have to maintain our focus, maintain our wits about us and we will be fine."

Irving was a mess in Game 3 last year, going 3-of-19 in a 15-point defeat. Kevin Love was a disaster in both games, shooting a combined 5-of-23.

DeMar DeRozan, who has been non-existent so far in this series, scored 64 points in the two games. Kyle Lowry erupted for 35 against Irving in Game 4.

So far, DeRozan has scored 24 total points, including five on 2-of-11 shooting in Game 2. Raptors coach Dwane Casey said "honestly, we can't" survive if DeRozan doesn't get back to scoring in bushels.

"We're in the same place we were in last year," Casey said. "Until a team wins on another team's court, it's not a series ... they played well, we shake their hands. They played great, (but) we haven't scratched the surface of where we can go."

Lowry suffered a left ankle sprain in Game 2 that cost him the fourth quarter. He said he would get treatment and be ready for Friday's game, but it admitted he was sore. And that's before the swelling took hold.

"They're a dangerous team, they have two guys in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan who can really hurt you and we understand that," Lue said. "We have to go go Toronto with the mindset this is a business trip. We've got to be serious, we've got to take these guys serious. These two games are over. We did what we was supposed to do. We won our two games at home and now we have to go on the road with the same mentality."

Of course, when the Raptors did tie the series in the conference finals, James hardly blinked. "I've been a part of some really adverse situations, and I just didn't believe that this was one of them," James famously quipped.

Well then.

Perhaps the greatest incentive for the Cavs to make quick work of the Raptors is the obvious benefits of rest for an aging team whose superstar -- James -- is averaging 42.2 minutes in the playoffs. The Eastern finals aren't going to start until the following weekend, at the earliest.

"I'm not a psychic," said James, who's only averaging 37 points in this series. "I don't know what can happen in 3 or 4. All I know is I can prepare my guys, prepare myself, and coaching staff will prepare us and it's up to us to go out and do it."


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