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Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) tries to get past Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010, in Cleveland. (Tony Dejak)
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) tries to get past Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010, in Cleveland. (Tony Dejak)

Raptors brace for royal visit Add to ...

Having failed to deal with a blue-collar team like the Portland Trailblazers the other night, the Toronto Raptors now face the unenviable task of handling the NBA's best team and its trio of stars while still missing their own big man, Chris Bosh.

So just how do you hope to neutralize LeBron James - not to mention Shaquille O'Neal and Antawn Jamison - and beat the 44-14 Cleveland Cavaliers?

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"I think if you can turn LeBron into a perimeter player that's always a plus," Raptors guard Jarrett Jack said hopefully yesterday. "I think he's a double threat once he's getting into the lane. When that happens, we start to collapse with him and he starts to find shooters and get other guys involved.

"If we can have him try to beat us from the outside, that's the best we can ask for."

Considering James hardly ever backs off driving to the basket and he was shooting 50.2 per cent from the floor before the Cavaliers visited the Boston Celtics last night and averaging just under 30 points per game, there is more than a touch of wishful thinking in that thought. Plus, James averaged a triple double in points, assists and rebounds over the Cavaliers' previous two meetings with Toronto this season, with each team winning one.

"The triple double is a sign he's an all-round player," Raptors head coach Jay Triano conceded yesterday. "He defends, he boxes out, he rebounds, he can lock guys up when he has to."

What is an opponent to do and remain within the bounds of the laws of the land?

"I don't think there is a key to try and restrict him from getting 10 rebounds or 10 assists," Triano said. "He is just a great player. You have to stay in front of him, make him give [the ball]up and you've got to make sure you close out when he does.

"He has a great group of players surrounding him and he'll have the ball the majority of the time."

If there is a glimmer of hope for the 31-25 Raptors, who sat four spots behind the Cavaliers in fifth place in the Eastern Conference before last night's games, it is that the Cavaliers have stumbled a little since trading for Jamison nine days ago. They lost three games in a row after he arrived before beating the New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday.

Also, the Cavaliers will arrive for tonight's game having played the previous night in Boston - although the Trailblazers did likewise on Wednesday and still had little trouble with the Raptors.

Raptors forward Antoine Wright thinks he and his teammates have to look back to the Cavaliers' first visit to the Air Canada Centre last October when they managed to turn James into an outside shooter. The superstar hit for 28 points, but the Raptors managed to win by 10 points.

"We packed the lane and tried to make him see a lot of people," Wright said. "Our intensity level has to be up from the beginning of the game. We can't come into the game and dig ourselves a hole. They're a team that won't let you back in it if you get down early.

"We have to come in really being intent, being aggressive and not making things easy for them."

If there is a weak spot of late for the Cavaliers, it is defence. Since the all-star break, the Cavaliers have allowed the opposition to shoot 50 per cent and allowed an average of 106 points in their last four games before last night.

But without Bosh (sprained ankle), taking advantage of that is doubly difficult.

"We just didn't get in any type of rhythm [against Portland]" Wright said. "With our team, we play inside and out. We never established ourselves in the paint. In a game like that, we tend to take more jump shots and couldn't get our shots to fall.

"[Bosh]is the focal point of our offence but we're going to have to figure out how to stay in games and get into a rhythm when he's not out there. We've got to do a better job of passing, cutting in and getting in transition.

"The things we have to do are focus on guys who are here now."

 

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