TORONTO — Last year's playoff preparation for the Cleveland Cavaliers was like a virtual all-nighter, a cram session for the conference finals.
The Raptors were tired. They'd played almost every second night for a gruelling 26 nights straight. The final buzzer had barely sounded against Miami, and suddenly they were in Cleveland, facing a daunting task against LeBron James and the rested Cavaliers.
"You're looking at a different-coloured jersey in one day's time," coach Dwane Casey said about last season's mad scramble. "It's not an excuse.
"(But) I'd rather have this than having to jump on a plane with one day's practice and going through their personnel, their plays, their sets, what we have to do with them, like we had last year."
The Cavs caught the Raptors on their heels in last season's opener, routing them 115-84. Cleveland won the series 4-2 en route to winning the NBA title.
This season, the Raptors — who finished with an identical 51-31 regular-season record as Cleveland — earned themselves a couple of extra days of preparation after dispatching the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6 on Thursday. They open the conference semifinals on Monday at Quicken Loans Arena.
The three days between has seen Toronto pore over film. They've watched last year's series, last year's regular-season, this year's regular season, and the Cavs' sweep of Indiana in the first round.
"If you think about it, at this time last year, we were already gone to Game 1, we'd come from a seven-game playoff to the conference final," Casey said. "This year is different. . . we've had a couple of days to get ready, to mentally decompress from a last tough series, to the next series."
The Cavaliers have been resting since last Sunday. They gathered for a team dinner to watch Toronto's Game 6 versus Milwaukee.
"That's just who we are," LeBron James told reporters in Cleveland. "Try to do that at least one time every series, between series. We did it before the first round series and (Thursday) night was us getting back together before this next round to watch the game and see who our next opponent is, if Toronto was able to close it out and they did."
Kyle Lowry, who was in a combative mood with the media Sunday before the team departed for Cleveland, was asked about the extra rest and preparation, compared to last season's mad scramble.
"It's a different year," said Lowry, who slouched back in his chair, arms crossed, holding the mic. "They played four games their first round, we played six, two extra games. Doesn't matter what the miles, what the fatigue is. You wanna win, you gotta play and give it your all."
Asked what makes the Raptors dangerous, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said "The two-headed monster, Lowry and (DeMar) DeRozan.
"They've been great for the last three or four years, just putting that team on their shoulders and been carrying them," Lue said. "so we've got to give them some different looks and we've got to do it by committee. It's not going to be a one-on-one challenge, where one person is going to guard a guy."
DeRozan, who averaged 23.5 points against the Bucks, is "one of the best one-on-one players in our league right now," Lue said.
Not to be defined solely by Lowry and DeRozan, and keen to improve on last season's historic playoff run, the Raptors made a big defensive upgrade at February's trade deadline, acquiring Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker.
The Raptors and Cavaliers have yet to play each other with their current rosters on the court.
"Both of us are totally different, so from that standpoint, you can't get a lot from the previous games, except they beat us three games early," Casey said. "Both teams are just different now as far as personnel, but both of us are similar in stuff we're doing."
The Raptors could put up a lot of points against a Cavs that is significantly worse defensively — at least on paper — than they were last season. Casey isn't entirely buying it.
"They're a high-octane offensive team right now. They're going to try to outscore you more than anything else," Casey said. "They're still very capable defensively just because of James and the way he reads the floor and reads situations, helps his teammates. I don't buy into a lot of the numbers. I really think they’re a very capable defensive team.”
Cleveland is 15-1 at home against conference opponents over the past three post-seasons.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press