Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey has to know he is fighting a losing battle when he tries to play down the importance of Friday night's encounter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Air Canada Centre as just another game in a long NBA season.
Granted, it is only game No. 2 for the undefeated (1-0) Raptors; just 81 more to go in the regular season.
But when the likes of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving come to town, especially after last season's stirring playoff battle between Toronto and Cleveland, the Raptors are eager to show that they have grown since their disheartening loss to the Cavs in the Eastern Conference final.
"They are the NBA champions so this is a great test for us, kind of see where we're at, kind of see where we need to go," Raptors forward DeMarre Carroll said Thursday. "They're going to … play their type of basketball. LeBron is the leader of the crew. So we got to play our type of basketball – that's physicality. And we got to try to help each other out on the defensive end.
"And I think if we can do that, and if we can [contain] their first run, and that's usually in the first quarter, we can win the basketball game."
The bad memories of last year's playoff tussle still resonate with the Raptors, who fell in six games to the Cavaliers, who went on to defeat the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
Carroll, in particular, is anxious to welcome back the Cavaliers. His injuries last season prevented him from playing up to his potential in the playoffs against Cleveland, where he was the primary defender against James.
It was not a fun assignment. James averaged 26 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.7 assists in that series to dismantle the Raptors with Carroll playing at what he said was about 50-per-cent capacity.
"I would not advise others to try," Carroll said somewhat dryly after the Raptors worked out Thursday at BioSteel Centre. "I just want to be healthy one of those times we go to the playoffs and play those guys. That's life in the NBA, that's what we get paid the big bucks to do, to go out there and put our body on the line, try to win games.
"There's no complaints here, I'm only trying to move forward. Hopefully I learned something from last year that I can take into the game [on Friday]."
Casey said it takes a village to handle a specimen such as James, a one-man wrecking crew at 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds. No one player can guard him one-on-one. He's just too big, too strong and too fast.
Casey said James, who is entering his 10th NBA season, can tailor his game to suit whatever conditions are thrown his way.
"At first he was playing on athletic instincts," Casey said. "And then you see him going to the coach on the floor, calling out your plays, telling his teammates what to do, quarterbacking. And when he's doing that and playing, it's dangerous. And that's why he's the best in the league right now because he does everything.
"He's a leader, he does it by example, he plays as hard as anyone. From my understanding he practises as hard as anyone. He's serious in practice. And your team is usually going to go the way your star player goes. That's why he is who he is."
It is a growth in ability that Casey said he has seen in only a few special players during his long involvement in the NBA.
"I would say Jordan went through that," Casey said. "Jordan had quite a few years that he didn't make the playoffs and then he morphed into that intellectual computer on the floor. And Magic Johnson kind of probably had it a little bit earlier than all those guys. But a lot of superstar players have that.
"And unfortunately for us the guy we're going against [on Friday night] has it too."
Still, Casey hopes to have a trick or two up his sleeve Friday night, declining to confirm what his starting lineup might look like.
Pascal Siakam, the rookie forward who made such a favourable impression in Wednesday's season-opening win against the Detroit Pistons in his NBA debut, isn't a lock to get his second consecutive start at power forward.
"We're going to hold that card close to our vests," Casey said.