Raptors likely shorthanded for Cavs on Thursday night

Serge Ibaka of the Raptors could be facing a suspension after exchanging punches with James Johnson of the Heat on Tuesday night. Ibaka & Co. host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night at Air Canada Centre.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been playing shorthanded, literally, for the entire 2017-18 season.

Come Thursday night, in a showdown between the teams possessing the second- and third-best records in the Eastern Conference standings, the Cavaliers could be facing a team in the same situation.

The Toronto Raptors (28-11), who sit 2.5 games ahead of the Cavaliers (26-15) in the East, will most likely be without three-time All-Star guard Kyle Lowry and after what transpired Tuesday night at home against visiting Miami, could be without rugged power forward Serge Ibaka.

Lowry is listed as day-to-day after taking a hard fall in a victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Monday. While attempting to corral an offensive rebound on a missed shot by Delon Wright, Lowry was knocked to the hardwood while he was in the air and landed hard on his back.

He was carried off the floor and to the locker room by teammates Jonas Valanciunas and Lucas Noguiera. Reports say he is suffering from a bone bruise of his tailbone.

“I mean, the whole game is completely different without Kyle. It’s everything. Everything,”  Lowry’s backcourtmate, DeMar DeRozan, who had 25 points, including a basket with 3.1 seconds left that gave Toronto an 89-88 lead in an eventual 90-89 loss to visiting Miami on Tuesday night at Air Canada Centre, said. “You can kind of tell with our ball movement wasn’t all the way there like it normally be when Kyle’s out there. Like I said, he’s a general on the floor. He sees things when they need to be called. That’s no excuse.

Ibaka was involved in a fracas with former Raptor James Johnson on Tuesday night. During a deadball situation in the third quarter, Ibaka and Johnson exchanged punches. Both were ejected.

Clear video evidence showed punches were thrown by both Johnson and Ibaka. The NBA will review the skirmish and suspensions are likely, especially in Ibaka’s case. If the league determines both players threw punches — which the video clearly shows — they’ll both be suspended at least one additional game.

 Ibaka is a repeat offender. The 6-fot-10, 235-pounder was suspended last season for a game for throwing a punch at Robin Lopez of the Chicago Bulls. The ejection was the fifth of his career. The 6-8, 240-pound Johnson was tossed for the third time in his career.

Lowry had X-rays in the arena after his tumble. They were negative, but he did not accompany the team when it returned to Toronto, doing so Tuesday.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey would not put a timetable on Lowry’s return.

“It’s an example of Kyle busting his butt for the team,” Casey said. “I’m not going to even speculate. That’s going to be him. (He) could come back tomorrow, come back Friday, come back Thursday, come back Saturday, I don’t know.

“When his body lets him know, he’ll be back.”

The Miami game was the first Lowry has missed this season. He is averaging 16.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and a team-high 6.9 assists, while but 42.5 percent for the floor, averaging 31 minutes.

Lowry being sidelined comes as the Raptors are facing one of their toughest stretches of the schedule since the first two weeks of the season.

Starting with the loss to the visiting Heat on Tuesday, the Raptor are amidst a seven-game timeframe when they are facing teams playing .500 or better basketball for the season.

After taking on the Cavaliers on Thursday night, the Raptors will host defending NBA champion Golden State on Saturday night.

The loss to Miami ended a 12-game home winning streak for Toronto. The defeat was the Raptors’ first since falling to the Washington Wizards on Nov. 5. The Raptors will carry a 14-2 home record into Thursday’s contest against Cleveland.

The Cavaliers eliminated the Raptors in each of the last season  postseasons en route to the NBA Finals.