Game 8 Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Portland Trail Blazers

Game Time: 6:00 p.m. TV: CSNNW

Famous slogans from the recent history of the NBA:

  • Golden State Warriors 2006-07 "We Believe!"
  • Portland Trail Blazers 2007-08 "Rise With Us!"
  • Cleveland Cavaliers 2010-11 "Hey guys, we're still in the NBA. No, really! Wait? Where are you going?"

After being jilted in a public dumping that would make the staff of The Bachelorette shake their heads in disgust, the Cleveland Cavaliers spent the 2010-11 season in ignominy. (That's just the other side of Euclid. Look it up.) Fortunately their tortuous performance landed them the #1 overall pick in the 2011 Draft, point guard Kyrie Irving from from Duke. (Translation for the Blazer faithful: He's the guy Portland would have wanted if they couldn't get Nolan Smith.) The good news is the new Cavalier roster is already outperforming last year's model, off to a 4-3 start. The caveat is the combined record of the four teams Cleveland has beaten is 8-24. But last season the Cavaliers were losing those games, so hats off to them.

The Cavs try to overcome their talent gap against most teams by playing 9 guys in heavy rotation with a couple more salted in. Nobody gets much more than 30 minutes per night for them, with veterans Anderson Varejao and Antawn Jamison at the top of the heap, just under 31 apiece. Varejao handles the rebounding at 10 per game, Jamison the scoring at 18. Irving and Anthony Parker start at guard, Omri Casspi at small forward. (Though again, their replacements receive as much floor time as they do.) Those three players are great at shooting three-pointers, pretty lousy scoring from anywhere else. Forwards Alonzo Gee and Tristan Thompson plus shooting guard Daniel Gibson come off the bench with more well-rounded offensive games. Reserve point guard Ramon Sessions is still struggling to find his way.

The Cavs make their way offensively via the three-pointer--which they shoot often and well--paint points, and Varejao's offensive rebounds. They're either at the rim or far away from it. Anything in between gives them trouble. They don't score on the break much. They're so-so at drawing fouls and miserable at hitting foul shots. They're down the middle in most other categories. "Undistinguished" would be the polite way to describe their offense. "Blah" would also do.

Cleveland's defense is another story. They range from "good enough" to "WOW!" depending on the situation. Of particular interest to Portland, they're by far the best transition defense team in this young season and it's not even close. You can score, just not on the break. They're decent in overall percentage allowed, points in the paint, decent rebounders as well. They're not the most feared squad on that end but you had better play smart against them. The Cavaliers have won 3 of their 4 games by keeping their opponent in the 80's. That's point total, not decade.

The interesting style matchup will be Portland's good three-point defense versus Cleveland's three-point offense. We'll also see if the Blazers can run at all versus the Cavalier transition "D". Even if not, though, this should be a solid win for the home squad. The Blazers are more talented by far, have the home court, and can shut down one of the two pillars of the opponent's attack when their offense is semi-anemic even when complete. If Portland doesn't win tonight, something went really wrong in the effort department. Letting Cleveland outwork them for a victory on their own home floor would be a stain on an otherwise bright start to the season. Having lost big in Phoenix just two days ago, the Blazers probably won't let that happen.

Fear The Sword will let you know what it's like to be a Cavs supporter.

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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