Game 24 Preview: Blazers vs. Cavaliers [Updated]

 Game Time:  5:00p.m. Pacific  TV:  Comcast and ESPN

OK, who thought this was a good idea? 

In theory the 14-9 Blazers shouldn't be too far behind the 15-7 Cavaliers.  In theory Cleveland's +5.0 and Portland's +4.8 point differentials mean that the two teams are roughly equal.  In theory the Blazers have two dominant matchups in this contest and the Cavaliers have two as well, promising a competitive game.  In theory.

There are two problems with the theory.  The most obvious is LeBron James.  Let's face it.  In the Kung Fu movie there's Bruce Lee and then there's everyone else.  It doesn't matter how strong those other guys are, how high they jump, how intimidating they look when they twirl their staves, or how many other people they've beaten up in the flick.  You know when they meet Bruce Lee they're going to bounce off of him like Jell-o hitting a battleship. That would be the case with LeBron tonight.  The Blazers don't have anybody like him.  Fuse Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Andre Miller together then give them Martell Webster's three-point shot and you'll have the idea.  See, Cleveland has all of those talents and skills packed into one small space leaving more freedom at the other roster spots.  There's none of this "must play a shooter to compensate for X and a rebounder to patch up Y" stuff.  If you can't play with LeBron you can't play.  So you spend three guys trying to catch up with LeBron's offensive production and four guys trying to stop him on defense and meanwhile everybody else on their roster gets to bust your chops just by playing their game.

As if that wasn't enough, the Cavs also have Shaq now.  He's having a "my career's on life support" kind of season, averaging 25 foul-plagued minutes, 11 points, and 7 rebounds per game.  After the drubbing Shaquille gave Greg Oden when he entered the league I was looking forward to a little payback maybe.  But alas, instead of Greg-Shaq IV, This Time It's Personal we get to see Shaq-Joel MCMXXII, No Really...It's Just a Flesh Wound.

Meanwhile point guard Mo Williams, shooting guard Anthony Parker, and reserve guard Daniel Gibson are all excellent three-point shooters, just in case you thought about sagging down to help on LeBron or Shaq.  Anderson Varejao has given the Blazers trouble in the past as well.  The Blazers' defense hasn't been solid for at least a month.  This team hits almost all of its weaknesses.

Oh!  Ha-ha, hee-hee!  The Cavaliers are a dominant rebounding team also.  Jolly.  AND Cleveland just lost two straight on the road and aren't going to be in the mood to mess around tonight.

Again I ask, who thought this was a good idea?

Were the Blazers at full strength, had they Oden and Przybilla together, if Roy and Aldridge had proven themselves a seamlessly dominant duo all season, were Rudy Fernandez on the court instead of on his back, if Steve Blake, and Martell Webster were stroking threes instead of missing every shot they throw up, if Andre Miller were more consistent than cantankerous...then we'd be talking about many people swarming few and we'd be speculating about a possible Blazer upset.   Here's some perspective though.  The Blazers were built to rely on a few things:  rebounding, three-point shooting, talent intimidation creating opportunities for everyone.  As the rosters stand on Friday, December 11th the Cavaliers are better than the Blazers in every one of those categories.  About the only option we have is to chant the mantra that every lesser team invokes when they play the Cavs:  any team can win on a given night and if enough things go right for us...maybe...

Pivotal Points to the Game (a.k.a. "Enough things going right...")

1.  The first and best way to challenge a favored team is by expending more energy than they do.  If the loose balls are 50/50 we'll lose.  If the defenses are prosecuted with equal effort we'll lose.  Give the exact same shots to the Cavaliers and the Blazers and we'll lose.  We have got to play harder than they in order to have a chance.

2.  The good news is that most of the Cleveland losses have come when they really stank up their offense, so it is possible.  The better news is that they've lost to some of the less remarkable defensive teams in the league, leading one to believe that they tend to let certain games slide and end up hamstringing themselves.  The two straight losses they're carrying make that unlikely BUT you never know.  Either way, the Portland offense must click tonight.  It can't be a Roy or LaMarcus or the shooters night.  There have to be "ands" in there and plenty of them.  Obviously you run the offense through the two stars but Webster, Miller, Blake, Bayless, Cunningham whoever gets in there needs to hit the shots they're capable of hitting.  You don't have to do too much.  Cleveland will be happy to see Webster and Blake dominating the ball or Bayless and Miller shooting threes.  Martell and Blake just need to hit their threes while Bayless and Miller penetrate, draw fouls, and hit those shorter jumpers.  But you can't goof up the stuff that got you into this league and expect to beat this team no matter how lightly (or not) they regard you.

3.  Rebounding might be a problem tonight.  Joel has got to have a great game.  One of the ways to limit the Cavaliers simply cleaning the glass and controlling the tempo all night long is just to hit your shots.  Teams get rattled and frustrated when they're taking the ball out of the basket all of the time.  Then they have to score instead of being able to toy with you.

4.  If you get a chance, run.  And by that I mean fast break, not away.  Just to clarify.

Final Thoughts

I guess in a way this is a no-lose game.  There's no reasonable expectation for the Blazers to win.  If they do pull it off or even stay close that's a big deal at this point.  If it's not much of a game, well, that's what Milwaukee is for.  Not that Saturday's game is a gimme either...

Check out the view from across the tracks at FeartheSword.

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.  Tomorrow's form will come up at the conclusion of this game.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

P.S. Don't miss this announcement about Blazersedge Night.

Update:  Well, the Blazers are apparently the ill-aspected ravens of the league when it comes to bringing injury and misfortune to town.  Brian Windhorst is reporting that the Cavs might be missing Anderson Varejao and Mo Williams tonight due to illness and Daniel Gibson due to a finger injury.  Nothing conclusive yet, but it appears the Cavaliers will enter the game short-handed.  A word of advice to the rest of the NBA:  when Portland comes to your city just meet them at the gate, toss them some vittles, and tell them to go away.  Just forfeit the game.  You'll be happier in the long run.

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