The Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers are set to face off tonight for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. It's a classic battle of the No. 1 and 2 seeds, but it doesn't really feel like it.
No one seems to be giving Toronto a chance in this series. It looks like many are predicting a sweep for Cleveland, and I don't blame them.
Toronto barely got past the No. 7 seed Indiana Pacers, winning in seven games. The same happened against the Miami Heat, who ended the series being without Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside, yet they were still able to force a seven-game series.
Given the inconsistencies throughout the postseason from their two players, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, it also makes sense why the Raptors aren't favored at all. But what if the Raptors could shock the world?
In the wise words of Kevin Garnett, anything is possible. The Raptors have already made franchise history, since this is the farthest they've made it in a given season. Why not go even further and contend for the NBA Finals?
Here are five reasons why the Raptors have a chance at upsetting the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
1. Overconfidence in Cleveland
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The Cavaliers have been steamrolling past everyone during this year's playoffs. Cleveland swept the Detroit Pistons in the first round, and then they easily took care of the Atlanta Hawks in the second.
The Cavs could be looking at the Raptors as a cakewalk, especially with Jonas Valanciunas expected to miss some time at the start of the series. He's already ruled out for Game 1.
With this, could we see some overconfidence coming from these Cavs players? Will the big man take it easy in the post, giving guys like Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo more opportunities in the post to take advantage?
LeBron James has probably learned his lesson from past playoff experiences of being overconfident about a team, so we shouldn't expect it from him. But can we expect the same from the likes of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, both who are playing in their second year of the postseason experience ever?
Stephen Curry was out for a period of time during this year's postseason, and many were wondering if the Warriors could even make it to the conference finals. The same occurred for the Los Angeles Clippers, which saw Chris Paul and Blake Griffin go down in the same game during the first round.
The Cavaliers have already dealt with injuries, losing out on Kevin Love for the majority of the postseason. After Game 1 of last year's NBA Finals, Kyrie Irving was ruled out for the rest of the series. While I'm obviously not wishing injury on anyone, who's to say it can't happen again?
Injuries are always possible. If one of the Cavs' major playmakers go down, it can definitely flip the script in this series for Toronto.
3. Raptors Have Nothing to Lose
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The Raptors have made it this far, and their fans know they are a big underdog going into this series. Toronto really has nothing to lose but play their hearts out.
Meanwhile, Cleveland has a ton of pressure. I mean, they've been booked to the 2016 NBA Finals ever since losing Game 6 to Golden State last year! LeBron James also has a ton of pressure, as he's looking to make his sixth straight Finals appearance while also trying to capture that elusive third championship ring.
What do the Raptors have pressure for? Nothing. I don't think many had them making it this far when the season even began, let alone getting past the first round of the playoffs.
Intangibles like these could definitely go a long way.
4. Toronto Is Battle-Tested
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The Raptors have dealt with a lot already in these playoffs. It looked like they were going to lose in the first round when the Indiana Pacers made them look vulnerable in Game 1, taking the victory.
The Raptors almost faced near-elimination in Game 5 when the Pacers looked like they had the game wrapped up until collapsing in the fourth quarter.
There, the Raptors were able to secure a victory and take a 3-2 series lead. It looked a lot better than being down 3-2 heading back to Indy for Game 6, which they ended up losing to force a Game 7. Of course, they ended up winning that Game 7.
The same happened to begin the series versus Miami, as they lost in overtime to begin Game 1. The Raptors then headed into overtime again in Game 2, but took home the win to tie up the series.
Ultimately, we were headed for another seven-game series, in which Toronto ended up winning again. Winning two close seven-game series shows how battle-tested Toronto is.
Against Miami, it was even more impressive since they relied a ton from DeRozan and Lowry. Despite their inconsistencies throughout the postseason, they've been able to come through when it matters most, which is why Toronto is now in the East Finals.
Toronto knows what it's like to play with injury, too. Valanciunas is a huge part of their team and a major x-factor, but the Raptors were able to pull through against Miami thanks to the stellar play of Biyombo.
It's things like this that can give Toronto a chance at winning this series.
5. Playing at Home
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They don't go by that "#WeTheNorth" slogan for nothing. The Raptors are a tough team to face when you head to their arena in Toronto.
They have some of the best fans in the league, and it really gives the team a homecourt advantage whenever they face other teams. It already shows in their playoff record this season.
Toronto is currently 6-2 at home for this year's playoffs, compared to 2-4 on the road. Both of their series-deciding Game 7s took place at home, where Toronto dominated in both of those victories.
One of the keys for the Raptors is to able to snag at least one game on the road in Cleveland. At home, they need to be able to when all of them, because that's the place for them to get a major advantage on the Cavs.
Toronto needs to try everything while at home: have the fans go all out, make their GM have another expletive-filled rant before the game, have Drake sit courtside and get in JR Smith's head, play Drizzy's "Views" album 24/7 for good luck—EVERYTHING!
Overall, Toronto is in a very unique situation. It's a situation they have yet to be in during their young history as a franchise.
In all honesty, I do have the Cavs winning this series pretty easily. I expect them to sweep. At best, I have Toronto winning probably one game in this series and that's it.
However, I always like when these teams—underdogs specifically—prove me wrong. It'd be a fascinating site to see if the Raptors are able to upset Cleveland and represent the East for the NBA Finals.