USA TODAY Sports
Kyrie Irving vs. Damian Lillard highlights a contest between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Portland Trail Blazers...a contest the Blazers need to win to avoid becoming embroiled in a huge slide.
You may remember the last time the Portland Trail Blazers and the Cleveland Cavaliers faced off. The scene was Cleveland. The date was December 1st. The night was thrilling. The set-up was double-overtime. The deciding moment was a twisting, 0.2-second three-pointer by Nicolas Batum to seal (and steal) the win for the Blazers, 118-117.
Now the Cavaliers are back for revenge. And they brought Kyrie Irving this time.
The Portland faithful will remember that Irving was out for that double-OT contest, seemingly robbing the game of its main storyline: the face-off between the once and future Rookie of the Year. It didn't turn out that way. Hopefully this outing will provide more drama in the individual matchup between Irving and Damian Lillard and less in terms of the final score. The Cavs are 4-14 since Irving's return including a loss last night in Sacramento. The Blazers would like to keep that trend going.
And really, they have a decent chance. The Cavaliers should be an easy matchup after the Miami-Golden State-Oklahoma City-Denver gauntlet that the Blazers just ran. Portland played well in most of those tough matchups. If they have any sense (and they usually do at home) they'll come out just as hard, execute, and walk away with a suspense-free victory.
Cleveland's first main problem is defense. They allow opponents to shoot 47% from the floor, the worst team defense in the league in that regard. They don't cover the three-point arc well and they send guys to the foul line like crazy. When you adjust for pace their points in the paint and fast break point allowed numbers are pretty bad too.
Cleveland's second main problem is offense. They're one of the most inefficient offenses in the league, a real problem when you're not playing fast enough to make up the difference. They're bottom-third in points in the paint and fast break points, middle of the pack drawing foul shots and three-point percentage, and scraping the bottom in overall shooting percentage. They're diffused (confused?) without a clear idea of how they're going to score except Kyrie Going Crazy. Worst of all, they turn over the ball frequently...another kiss of death for a control-based team.
The Cavaliers fare better in the rebounding department, especially offensive rebounding. It's the closest thing they have to a team strength.
Then again, all of this is expected given the lineup. Outside of Irving their big-minute guys are all average-to-horrible from the field, emphasis on "horrible". Three of their top eight rotation guys shoot under 40%. Tyler Zeller is a center shooting 42%, which is god-awful. Everybody else except Kyrie shoots a lower than average percentage for their position. They've got three smalls (Alonzo Gee, Dion Waiters, and Jeremy Pargo) combining for 10 three-point attempts per game and not a one of them is shooting over 32%. Irving, Daniel Gibson, and C.J. Miles can all hit the three but those threes comprise half of the shots that trio takes. In other words, they're just out there kind of bombing to no effect.
Center Anderson Varejao, forward Tristan Thompson, and Zeller are the authors of the offensive rebounding dominance, averaging 5.5, 4, and 2 per game respectively. Varejao, who is expected to miss at least the next month following a recent surgery on his leg, can still defend but Thompson and Zeller, not so much. Neither do any of them offer consistent point production. If the Cavs had a credible inside threat to counter-balance their guard scoring they might be in business. They're not there yet, so it's all on the guards and their merry shooting.
Item #1 underlined on Portland's chalkboard is to take the offensive rebounds away from Cleveland. Do that and they won't score enough points no matter what Kyrie does. Item #2 is to keep turnovers down (the Cavs do force them) while exploiting Cleveland's tendency to give up the ball. Item #3 is to not get stupid on offense. The Cavaliers allow plenty of assists and you can run your plays to good effect. They've also allowed their last two opponents 113 and 124 points respectively. You don't have to be great, just don't blow it.
Do any two of those things and the game is yours. Heck, do one well and the game might be yours anyway.
The main item for Blazers fans, of course, is to watch the Lillard-Irving battle with great interest. This should be fun...and "fun" is just what this team needs right now.
Game Time is 7:00 p.m. Pacific. Local TV coverage comes via KGW tonight.
FeartheSword has the Cavs covered.
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