The Cleveland Cavaliers’ fortune can’t change over the final week of the regular season, already knowing they’ll enjoy home-court advantage for as long as they last in the playoffs.
The Toronto Raptors are still trying to find a way in.
They surely would be happy to be back in Cleveland to open the postseason next week, but the Raptors still have plenty of work to do to make that happen as they begin a demanding three-game stretch Tuesday night against the Cavaliers.
While Cleveland (60-17) has wrapped up at least a share of the league’s best record, Toronto (38-38) is one game ahead of Chicago for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with six to play.
For a potential 1-versus-8 first-round matchup, these teams have been relatively evenly matched this season. The teams split their first two meetings, each winning at home, before the Cavaliers beat the Chris Bosh(notes)-less Raptors 126-118 in overtime north of the border Feb. 26.
LeBron James(notes) had 36 points in that win, Cleveland’s 11th in the last 12 meetings with James in the lineup. The reigning MVP has averaged 30.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists in that stretch, and the Cavaliers have beaten Toronto 10 straight times at home.
Cleveland claimed the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a 93-88 win over Atlanta on Friday, and Sunday’s loss by the Los Angeles Lakers ensured James and company will have the home-court edge throughout the postseason.
The Cavaliers could have clinched it themselves earlier in the day but lost 117-113 at Boston. James had 20 of his 42 points in the fourth quarter to rally his team from 22 down, but he missed a potential go-ahead 3-pointer - passing up an open Antawn Jamison(notes) - in the waning seconds.
“Guys, in order to be great, have to have a lot of confidence,” coach Mike Brown said. “You have to have confidence to take big shots, and at times take some risks. … If he felt like he had a clean look at it, fire away.”
It’s unclear how Brown plans to handle his rotation over the final five games, but James’ minutes are likely to decrease as he rests for the playoffs - even though he holds a narrow lead in the scoring race (29.9 points per game) over Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant(notes) (29.7).
The two likeliest first-round opponents for Cleveland are Toronto and Chicago, where the Cavaliers travel Thursday. A stop in Cleveland is the start of a brutal three-game stretch for the Raptors that includes a visit from Boston on Wednesday and a trip to Atlanta on Friday.
Toronto is looking to recover from a heartbreaking loss Sunday. Bosh scored 42 points but missed a point-blank layup at the buzzer after Sonny Weems’(notes) steal, allowing Golden State to escape with a 113-112 win.
“This one stings a little bit given our situation, how we need every game,” Bosh said. “I don’t let that one play dictate my whole game, my whole season or my whole month.”
Bosh has averaged 21.0 points and 13.0 rebounds in his two games against Cleveland, while the Cavaliers have struggled to contain Andrea Bargnani(notes). He’s averaged 23.7 points and shot 57.4 percent in the season series.