Opening Night Preview: Raptors at Cavaliers

It's finally here. After a crappy lockout, an abbreviated offseason, and the marquee Christmas Day games, the season opener for the Cleveland Cavaliers is upon us. We know that the Cavs probably won't be very good and have a lot of work to do. But there is finally reason for excitement in Quicken Loans Arena once again.

Song of the Day: Hallelujah, I Love Her So - Ray Charles


The Cavaliers are back and that's all that really matters. You may hear plenty of people scoff at the notion of watching a matchup between the Raptors and the Cavaliers, but I love it just the same. Hallelujah, it's back.

Tonight's Overview:

Toronto Raptors (0-0) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (0-0)

Here we go. These are not your slightly older brother's Cavaliers. There are plenty of new faces on the sideline and some familiar faces coming back from significant injuries.

Additions Subtractions
Kyrie Irving (draft) J.J. Hickson (trade)
Tristan Thompson (draft) Baron Davis (waived)
Omri Casspi (trade) Manny Harris (waived)
Anderson Varejao (injury) Joey Graham (waived)

Antawn Jamison (injury)

Mychel Thompson (D-League

(More after the jump)

I think I speak for 99% of Cavs fans when I say that the thing I am most excited for is the professional debut of Kyrie Irving. He was the number one overall pick in the draft and now it's time to see what he can do. He'll have a pretty cushy matchup with a combination of Jarryd Bayless and Jose Calderon guarding him, but it's still the NBA. These are professional athletes and we'll get to see how Kyrie does in his first ever NBA game. Kyrie Irving will make the start in his first NBA regular season game. The future is here.

Don't forget that Irving is not the only first round draft pick on this roster. Tristan Thompson will also make his NBA debut after a relatively impressive impressive preseason. Thompson won't be starting, but he should get some significant minutes behind Antawn Jamison at power forward.

One of the more overlooked moves in the offseason was the trade of J.J. Hickson to Sacramento for Omri Casspi and a future first round pick. Casspi offers a much needed scoring threat at the small forward position. All due respect to Joey Graham and Christian Eyenga, but they were not exactly offensive masterminds last season. Other than Irving, Casspi is probably the player that I am most interested in watching tonight as he makes his Cleveland debut.

It bears mentioning that despite all of these other moves to bring players in from the outside, the Cavaliers' biggest addition comes in the form of a guy already on the roster. Anderson Varejao is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury and will play his first regular season game since January 5th, 2011. If preseason is any indication, Andy will bring exactly what we are used to seeing out of the big Brazilian. Unlimited energy and hustle, along with smothering defense and inspiring leadership. Varejao obviously doesn't contribute much offensively, but he is strong enough and quick enough to check Andrea Bargnani whether he plays on the perimeter or in the post. The Cavaliers went on that epic 26-game losing streak right around the time Varejao suffered his injury. I think it's safe to say that it would not have lasted as long if Andy were available. Until further notice, he is the best player on this team. It will be good to see him back.

As for Toronto, new head coach, Dwane Casey will coach his first game for the Raptors. He has a tall task in front of him turning around a squad that went 22-60 last season and ranked dead last in defensive efficiency. Furthermore, Toronto's first round pick, Jonas Valanciunas, is stranded overseas until next season. Toronto is probably one of the few teams in the NBA that will struggle even more than the Cavaliers in this 66-game regular season.

Injury Report:

Cleveland: Semih Erden (broken left thumb)

Toronto: Linas Kleiza (knee surgery)

Key Matchup:

Anderson Varejao vs. Andrea Bargnani

I talked about it a little bit earlier, but I think this will definitely be an intriguing matchup. Bargnani has an extensive offensive arsenal. He's 7-feet tall and has range beyond the 3-point arc. Although he is quite talented on the offensive side of the ball, Bargs leaves much to be desired on defense and on the glass. He has some of the worst rebounding percentages for a 7-footer in NBA history and plays Jamison-esque defense. Varejao has the speed and length to effectively guard him and should be able to gobble up a considerable amount of offensive boards.

Fear The Sword's Fearless Prediction:

The Cavaliers start the 2011-12 campaign on the right foot. The Q is rockin' and Kyrie Irving shows why he was deserving of that number one pick as the Cavs knock off the Raptors, 104-96. Casspi pours in 19 points in his Cleveland debut while TT records a game high 4 blocks to go along with a few highlight reel dunks.

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