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Cavaliers' latest setback in Toronto could have major playoff implications

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Cavaliers' latest setback in Toronto could have major playoff implications

The Cavaliers entered the season as prohibitive favorites to win the Eastern Conference. Yet here we are -- All-Star Break two weeks in the rearview -- watching real competition for the top spot.

The upstart breathing down LeBron James' neck? The Raptors, who are only two games back after a 99-97 win over Cleveland at Air Canada Centre Friday night. 

The teams' stars traded shots in the final seconds. Kyle Lowry's long jumper went in, whereas James' 3-pointer did not. 

It might be tempting to dismiss the result as a one-off, any-given-night type thing if it wasn't so similar to the 103-99 defeat they suffered in Toronto back in November. Cleveland had held a lead for most of both games before letting it slip away late.

So much has changed in the intervening months -- including Kyrie Irving's return from injury, David Blatt's dismissal and Tyronn Lue's promotion to head coach. And yet the result didn't. 

"When you lose the way we lost, just mental mistake after mental mistake, those hurt more than anything when you can play better mentally," James told ESPN. 

The King will get plenty of blame for taking and missing that final shot given his poor percentage from 3 this year, but the team was +6 with him on the floor Friday. 

Two more serious weak spots for Cleveland: 

Irving played poor defense, nothing particularly newsworthy on it's own. But he wasn't able to redeem himself on the offensive end where he's needed most.

He finished 4-11 from the field (0-2 from 3-point territory) with only 1 assist and 1 steal. 

Compare that to Lowry, who poured in 43 points, dished 9 assists, grabbed 5 boards and picked up 4 steals.

The Raptors bench also outperformed their Cleveland counterparts, scoring 37 points and logging meaningful minutes. Terrence Ross and Bismack Biyombo combined for 26 points, while the entire Cavaliers bench managed 23. 

Relief from reserves was key, as it helped compensate for a poor shooting night by DeMar DeRozan (1-11) in a way Cleveland could not for Irving. 

It's worth noting that the Raptors deserve as much credit for the win as the Cavs deserve blame for the loss. Both of these teams are playing at a high level; we could just as easily be enumerating Toronto's flaws today if James' last shot had fallen. 

But Cleveland's weaknesses are seldom more obvious than at Air Canada Centre. That makes the race for the East's top seed -- and home court advantage in the playoffs -- pivotal. 

If the Cavs finish second to the Raptors, it could set up an Eastern Conference Finals series with four games in Toronto. And we have a pretty good idea of how that goes. 

James and his squad must know this. Look for them to come out swinging against their next opponent -- the Wizards (1 p.m. Sunday, CSN). 

MORE WIZARDS: Wizards aren't close to being out of the woods

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Kevin Durant commits $10 million to Prince George's County public schools

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USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Durant commits $10 million to Prince George's County public schools

Kevin Durant continues to give back to the community that raised him. 

Durant, who calls Prince George's County, MD., home, recently announced a partnership with Prince George's County public schools. 

The partnership, which comes with a $10 million dollar commitment from Durant, will help fund a program called College Track. Essentially, it's a 10-year program that provides basic infrastructure — test prep, tutoring, college selection and how to get financial aid — that kids from less-advantaged families often times don’t have.

Durant's money will go towards building College Track's Maryland center. There are nine other College Tracks across California, Colorado, and Louisiana, and the program has helped over 3,000 students get to college and beyond. This Maryland center will be the first of three that are planned to go up in the DC area. 

You can read the entire article about Durant and College Track right here. 

RELATED: WHAT THE SESSIONS SIGNING MEANS FOR TOMAS SATORANSKY

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: What the Ramon Sessions signing means for Tomas Satoransky

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Associated Press

Wizards Tipoff podcast: What the Ramon Sessions signing means for Tomas Satoransky

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chase Hughes and Chris Miller offered their reaction to the Ramon Sessions signing and how it could affect Tomas Satoransky. Plus, how the Wizards match up with the new-look Cavs and how Kelly Oubre, Jr. broke out of his slump.

Chase also explained his epic fail with an Oubre interview and they revisited an Instagram post from months ago that foreshadowed much that has gone down this season.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!