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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, February 25, 2016 at 5:00 PM

The short list of true NBA Championship hopefuls this year is basically Golden State, San Antonio, and Cleveland…with the occasional nod thrown toward Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers when casual followers jump into the discussion. What about the Toronto Raptors? They are currently #2 in the East behind Cleveland. They get a chance to make a very big statement Friday night in an NBA showdown that will tell us a lot about how the Eastern brackets are likely to play out.

The first thing you need to know is that Toronto is “legitimate” by Eastern Conference standards. They’re not winning with smoke and mirrors. And, that conference has improved a bit this year anyway. Being #2 in the East is a compliment…and Toronto is definitely a team you should be paying attention to the rest of the way.

But, the second thing you need to know is that Cleveland has an extra gear they go to when needed…which you saw this past Sunday when they absolutely humiliated Oklahoma City as a road underdog on national TV. Cleveland paces themselves…then goes whole hog when it’s time to make a statement.

That sets up a tricky challenge for handicappers. Will Cleveland bring everything to this road game at Toronto? Or, will they save a few things in reserve knowing that a best-of-seven with the Raptor may be awaiting on the road the Finals?

Let’s see what JIM HURLEY’S key handicapping stats have to say about a matchup that may represent the new big rivalry in the NBA’s Eastern Conference…


Adjusted Offensive Efficiency

Cleveland: 106.9 per 100 possessions (#4 in the NBA)

Toronto: 106.2 per 100 possessions (#6 in the NBA)

If you remember our preview of Cleveland/OKC, you’ll note that Toronto is basically the same team in the efficiency numbers. Here they’re just 0.7 points per 100 possessions behind LeBron and the Cavs. Yes…that’s with Cleveland in cruise control while Toronto is making its point NOW. Still, Toronto is good on both sides of the floor, and a potentially serious threat to the Cavs if anybody important gets hurt (which is common for the Cavs!)


Adjusted Defensive Efficiency

Cleveland: 100.8 per 100 possessions (#8 in the NBA)

Toronto: 101.6 per 100 possessions (#9 in the NBA)

Very similar here. Though, it’s worth noting that too many in the media assume Cleveland doesn’t play defense. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have poor defensive reputations. LeBron supposedly only guards people in the playoffs (or only in the fourth quarter of playoff games!). Yet, here the Cavs are in the top eight even after you account for their slow pace.


Pace Ranking

Cleveland: #28

Toronto: #26

The big difference between Toronto and OKC from that earlier preview is that Toronto likes to play slow. So, this isn’t a matchup where Cleveland can take Toronto out of its comfort zone. Both teams love playoff-style basketball that emphasizes halfcourt execution. It’s automatic that Friday’s matchup will be played at a slow pace typically associated with May and June in the Eastern brackets.


Against the Spread

Cleveland: 24-28-3

Toronto: 31-24

Cleveland has trouble covering spreads at a profitable level because “cruise control” just isn’t going to get there against the high prices assigned to a defending conference champion. Toronto’s been a great bargain, as oddsmakers have been slow to accept the Raptors as the new #2 in the East. Again, Las Vegas betting value Friday will be depend on Cleveland’s mindset. We may see a replay of the blowout at OKC if LeBron’s in the mood to send a message. If Cleveland’s in cruise control, the message Toronto wants to send will more likely rule the day.

Whether it’s NBA or college action, JIM HURLEY and his team of experts are combing the board every day to find you BIG, JUICY WINNERS. Keep building your bankrolls for MARCH MADNESS and the NBA PLAYOFFS. You can purchase game-day basketball right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about extended service through March Madness and beyond, please call us in the office at 1-888-777-4155 Thursday or Friday during normal business hours.

After this brief side trip to the NBA…we’ll be focused very much on COLLEGE hoops from now through March Madness. Here’s what’s ahead in the NOTEBOOK…

Saturday: North Carolina at Virginia in the ACC

Sunday-Monday: Kansas at Texas Monday in the Big 12

Tuesday: Indiana at Iowa in the Big 10

Wednesday-Thursday: California at Arizona Thursday in the Pac 12

Friday-Saturday March 4-5: North Carolina at Duke in the ACC (long awaited rematch!)

Sunday March 6: SMU at Cincinnati in the AAC (last day of the regular season!)

Monday March 7: Conference Championship Previews (Colonial, Metro-Atlantic)

There will be plenty of time to talk about Cleveland, Toronto, and all the NBA contenders come April. On the immediate horizon…WALL-TO-WALL COLLEGE BASKETBALL! Get handicapping tips right here in the NOTEBOOK, then GET ALL THE MONEY with PROVEN WINNER JIM HURLEY!


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