2018 NBA Playoffs
LeBron James drives to the rim against the Raptors (Frank Gunn/CP)

2018 NBA Playoffs

(1) Toronto Raptors vs (4) Cleveland Cavaliers

In the second round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers will face off against the number one seed Toronto Raptors. After a grueling first round for both teams, this round may bring even more excitement.

Now, this is where it is going to get interesting. For a few reasons, but there are a few that stand out more than others. First, James is trying to extend his streak to eight straight Finals appearances. Second, the Raptors are trying to prove they are finally the team that everyone wants them to be. And expects them to be.

As far as these two teams this season, they could not have been more different. The Raptors were able to form a team that could compete with some of the leagues best and because of that, they secured the number one seed in the East with a record of 59-23.

The Cavaliers, on the other hand, they weren’t so lucky. After a blockbuster trade that sent All-Star guard Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics, nobody was sure how this team would play. They still had James and they acquired Isaiah Thomas in the process, but that did not work. After trading almost their whole team, they were able to build a team full of young, athletic shooters to surround James.

The regular season series was won by the Cavaliers 2-1, but the playoffs is a completely different story. With the Raptors known to underperform in the playoffs and James bound to run out of steam, this is shaping up to be an interesting series.

Let’s take a closer look at one major key to victory for each team, starting with the Cavaliers.

2018 NBA Playoffs
Kevin Love and LeBron James (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

Kevin Love has to step up and play well:

The Cavaliers barely made it out of the first round of the playoffs. We could spend this entire article talking about how great James is and how great he played in this series, but the fact is, he can’t do it alone. No matter how great a player is, it is still a team effort and James is going to need more out of his team if they want any shot of making it past this Raptors team.

All eyes were on Kevin Love in the first round and this round is no different. He plays a vital role in the success and downfall of this team. If he is hitting, then they have a great chance of winning the game. If he is off, then they usually end up getting destroyed.

Let’s take a look at a few examples, with the good side first. In Game 7 against the Pacers, Love played pretty well. George Hill was able to get him open off the pick and roll and he capitalized by hitting four three-pointers. And although he only finished with 14 points, he was able to take over the game while James was on the bench. Because of this, the Cavaliers were able to take the win.

For the bad side, let’s take a look at Game 6 against the Pacers. Love finished this game with only seven points and shot 3-10 from the field and 1-4 from deep. Take away his seven rebounds and he was pretty much useless in the contest. Because of this, the Pacers were able to blow the Cavaliers out by 34 points.

After comparing his two games, it is safe to say that Love has to be one of the players to step up and play well. Especially going up against a team like the Raptors who are a deep team.

2018 NBA Playoffs
Demar DeRozan
(Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images)

DeMar DeRozan has to continue to produce big numbers:

Although the Raptors are a great team, they still have a few players who stand out more than others. And the number one player on their team is DeMar DeRozan. So far this postseason, DeRozan has been able to average 26.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game.

During their last series against the Wizards, DeRozan was able to score 30 or more points three out of the six games played. His high was 37 points in Game 2 to help the Raptors take a 2-0 advantage.

While it is easy to sit around and talk about how great he has played so far, there is still work to be done. The only difference is, this time they are going against the best player in the world. James will more than likely be guarding DeRozan for most of the games, and even though James isn’t known to be an amazing defender, it is still going to be tough.

A lot of their previous playoff struggles have come because of their star players failing to perform when they need them most. If the Raptors want any chance at winning this series, DeRozan has to perform like an MVP and produce numbers every single game.

Even though we saw him play well, we also saw him fall short in the series. In their Game 6 win, DeRozan only finished with 16 points and shot 6-18 from the field. This can not happen during this series or the Raptors could see themselves making an early exit.

If he DeRozan plays well, then the others should follow.

Final predictions:

I think that this series will be one of the best this postseason. And it is always hard to bet against James, so I am going with the Cavaliers in six games.

Series schedule

Game 1: Tuesday, May 1 in Toronto

Game 2: Thursday, May 3 in Toronto

Game 3: Saturday, May 5 in Cleveland

Game 4: Monday, May 7 in Cleveland

Game 5*: Wednesday, May 9 in Toronto

Game 6*: Friday, May 11 in Clevland

Game 7*: Sunday, May 13 in Toronto


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