Raptors look to sweep road trip at Cleveland
Toronto has 15 games remaining on its regular-season schedule, and the Raptors (48-19) sit entrenched in second place in the Eastern Conference.
They still have a chance to overtake Milwaukee for the top spot in the East -- after Sunday's 125-104 win against Miami, Toronto entered Sunday 2 1/2 games (three in the loss column) behind Milwaukee.
The Raptors clinched a playoff spot Saturday when Milwaukee beat Charlotte. Toronto being in the playoffs was a lock. Another lock: Toronto's playoff nemesis the past three years, the Cleveland Cavaliers, will not be in the postseason.
The Raptors get one final look at the Cavaliers (16-50) on Monday when they travel to Cleveland. Toronto can sweep the season series, having won the first three games by an average of 13 points.
Cleveland needs to find a way to stop Kawhi Leonard, who is averaging 31.7 points and 9.0 rebounds per game against Cleveland this year.
The Cavaliers will be without Matthew Dellavedova (concussion) and might be without Larry Nance Jr. (chest), both of whom are listed as day-to-day.
Despite the Raptors' regular-season success against the Cavaliers, Toronto head coach Nick Nurse is concerned about his team's uneven play of late, especially since Fred VanVleet injured his thumb. VanVleet is not expected back for another 10 days.
"I can really see ... big leaps forward, and then a step back," Nurse told the Toronto Star before the Raptors embarked on a three-game road trip that ends in Cleveland. "We've got to get to that point where it's just steady steps going forward, and not that step back."
Toronto had dropped three of five games before reeling off road wins against New Orleans and Miami.
"We have to play harder as a group and continue to get better," point guard Kyle Lowry said. "Nothing's going to be given to you on any given night."
That's true when playing the Cavaliers. Despite having the league's third-worst record, Cleveland is 4-4 since the All-Star break. The Cavs had legitimate chances to go 7-1 in that stretch, but faltered late in three of the losses.
Kevin Love's return from foot surgery has made a big difference, but so has the play of rookie guard Collin Sexton. Sexton is averaging 15.2 points and shooting 38.8 percent from beyond the arc. He's made strides in his decision making and seems to gain confidence with every game.
"Playing point guard sometimes calls for sacrifices as far as getting other players involved," Cavaliers coach Larry Drew told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "Collin is a scoring point guard. He likes to score and can score, but sometimes you have to get your other guys rolling."
Sexton has come a long way since his first game, when he was held to nine points by the Raptors in the season opener.
In a loss to Miami on Friday, Sexton proved doubters wrong when he earned a piece of Cavaliers history breaking Kyrie Irving's rookie record for made 3-pointers (76).
"It's pretty cool because people been saying I can't shoot," Sexton said after the game. "I just got to keep proving them wrong."
While Cleveland is relegated to player development and playing spoiler, Nurse is trying to figure out how best his new players -- Marc Gasol, Jeremy Lin and Jodie Meeks -- fit in.
If the postseason started tomorrow, Nurse said his team would be in good shape.
"We know who we are and where we're going," he said.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 10, 2019