Toronto Mike

In-form Raptors Chasing Down the Cavs

Whenever it has looked as though the Cleveland Cavaliers  were about to pull away from the Toronto Raptors at the top of the Eastern  Conference, the Canadian franchise has clawed them back. With less than a month  to go until the end of the regular season, the Cavs and the Raptors both know  that their postseason tickets are all but booked. But that won't stop the  battle between the two going all the way to the finish. While it's hard to look  beyond the Golden State Warriors in terms of the championship this season,  there are at least two teams in the East who will be feeling confident about  handling themselves well against Stephen Curry and company.

Toronto's impressive 112-104 overtime victory over a  Miami Heat side leading the Southeast Division only served to further cut the  gap between the Raptors and the Cavs at the top of the Eastern Conference.  DeMar DeRozan once again showed just how much of an influence he is going  to have in the playoffs, with the All-Star swingman repeating his exploits  from the 117-115  win over the Portland Timbers earlier in the month by recording 38  points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. The latest in a string of sensational  performances this season, DeRozan scored 17 of his 28 points in the final 17  minutes of the game and impressed in all areas of the court.

1/24/14 | Sixers vs. Raptors

"1/24/14 | Sixers vs. Raptors" (CC BY-ND 2.0) by Philadelphia 76ers

In a rare off night for Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph, who  recorded just five goals from 23 attempts collectively, DeRozan's  performance ensured the Raptors maintained pace with Cleveland at a time of the  season when many felt the Cavs would have already wrapped up the Eastern  Conference. But with still a month left of the regular season, including a  number of tough games for both franchises, this race at the top of the  conference could well go down to the wire. While Cleveland are as short as 4/11 in the latest  Bet365 NBA betting odds, the Raptors have shown more than enough over  the past few weeks to prove they aren't yet willing to throw the towel in just  yet.  And while you're at it, Bet on Euro 2016 finals on William Hill's website.

While Toronto were beating Miami, the Cavs will have  been sat around their televisions knowing just how big a result this could be.  With the Canadians now within two games of Cleveland, who have led the  conference for much of the season, both teams know it would be the Raptors who  would take the title should the East's top-two finish with identical records  due to their 2-1 season series win. Both franchises are set to play 10 of their  final 18 regular season games away from home, during which time Toronto could  be able to welcome back Carroll  into the team following his knee injury.

Having averaged almost 12 points a game, the former first  round draft's return to action will be a major boost to a Raptors team that  will need all hands on deck come the postseason. While Toronto have won 23  games from the 28 Carroll has missed, the small forward will have an important  role to play between now and the end of the campaign.

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