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LeBron, Cavs prepared for 'challenging turnaround' in Game 1 vs. Raptors

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports / Action Images

TORONTO - For the third consecutive May, the Toronto Raptors' season will come down to whether they can vanquish LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, only this year provides distinct advantages for Toronto that Cleveland previously enjoyed in the seemingly annual matchup.

The Raptors will open the Eastern semifinals at home on Tuesday after finishing atop the conference standings, and will enter Game 1 with a two-day rest advantage after eliminating the Washington Wizards in six games, while the Cavs slogged through a seven-game slugfest with the Indiana Pacers.

"Just jumping from one team - where you've prepared for them every day for the last two weeks, seven games - not having much time to prepare for the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference this year, is going to be a challenging turnaround for us tonight," James said Tuesday morning before shootaround in Toronto.

Less than 48 hours earlier, James sat at a postgame podium in Cleveland after logging 43 minutes in a Game 7 victory over Indiana - a game in which he was hindered by cramping - and admitted he was too tired to even begin thinking about the Raptors.

But James wasn't having any talk of fatigue or minutes on Tuesday.

"It wasn't an issue. It's what I had to do to help us get to the second round," the three-time Finals MVP said of the 41-plus minutes per game he logged during the Pacers series.

And he was finally ready to talk about his second-round opponent.

"They're the No. 1 team in the East for a reason," James said of the 59-win Raptors. "The head of the snake is DeMar (DeRozan) and Kyle (Lowry). They've added so many pieces this year that has helped their team be more complete. Their bench is extremely well balanced. They come in and play with that same aggression, same focus, and same confidence as the first unit. They're a more well-balanced team this year, and they showed it in their record, in their ability to win games, and they showed why they're the No. 1 team in the East."

The bulk of the Raptors' roster that was swept by James' Cavaliers last season remains in place, but the rotation has changed, with youngsters Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam, and Jakob Poeltl emerging as integral role players after earning only sporadic minutes last year, while being joined by newcomer C.J. Miles to complete the NBA's most effective bench.

Toronto is deeper this time around, more rested, and actually favored in Game 1 after posting a league-best 34-7 home record (the home team won all three regular-season meetings between the Raptors and Cavs, with Cleveland taking two of three), but the Raptors won't allow themselves to fall into the trap that unchartered territory brings with it.

"We've got to go out there and play our style of basketball. We can't rely on their team getting tired, or one guy getting tired," DeRozan said Tuesday morning. "We've got to rely on what got us to this point."

"Sometimes too much rest is not good," added Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, who cited Monday's Game 1 result between the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics, in which the rested Sixers were run out of the gym by a beat-up Boston team.

"My job is to not let our guys fall in that trap, because that trap is easy to fall into, have everyone pat you on the back, tell you how great you are, and that you're going to win the series."

They may not want to publicly admit it, but for the first time in a postseason matchup with James' Cavs, the ball is in Toronto's court - figuratively and literally.

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