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Game 45 Preview: Cavaliers vs. Blazers

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A Look at the Cavaliers

The Cavaliers' 24-19 record makes them look slightly above average but don't be fooled.  They had trouble early in the season with signings and injuries.  They are 11-3 in their last 14 games and looking like a powerhouse again.

Saying LeBron James stirs the Cavs' drink is the biggest "DUH" statement ever.  If you didn't know that already you must have just come out of a coma.  We shouldn't let the obvious admission pass, however, without looking at this stats:

29.9 ppg, 48% shooting, 10 free throws drawn per game, 7.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio

That, my friends, is sicker than the hayloft at a hillbilly family reunion.  Remember that scene in the last Star Wars movie where Annakin/Darth walks into the Jedi headquarters and starts snuffing out the 8-year-old Padawans?  That's LeBron coming out of the locker room tunnel every night of the week.

LeBron's supporting cast this year has not been bad so much as inconsistent.  Zydrunas Ilgauskas is the same as he ever was:  good offensive player, good rebounder, decent shot-blocker, a little older and slower now and still not a great defender.  Drew Gooden remains one of the worst shooting post men in the league but cleans the glass well.  Daniel Gibson and Larry Hughes are firecrackers from that corner stand, equally capable of lighting you up or being a dud.  The one guy who's made a huge difference is Anderson Varejao.  This team wasn't near the same without his spark and hustle.  If the other guys are firecrackers he's the team match.

Update: Sabonis4Ever alerted us in the comments below that Varejao is out tonight. That is good news for us.

The thing that should scare Portland most about the Cavs besides LeBron is the fact that they're great rebounders.  They just destroy teams with offensive rebounds with Ilgauskas, Gooden, and Varejao all ranking in the upper echelons of the league.  James and Ilgauskas are the only good shooters in the group but seeing as how they take the lion's share of the shot that doesn't matter much.  Early on in the season Cleveland had serious problems on defense but they've clamped down in the last month.  Their 46% field goal percentage allowed isn't great but they're not just going to give you the game through indifference anymore.

What I'd Like to See

  1.  If you move the ball and people you can get into the interior of the Cleveland defense with good results.  I don't think this is a game where we can shoot jumpers all night and expect to win.  They'll rebound way too many misses and you don't want their wings on the run.  We need to penetrate and attack.  Shooting a high percentage will be critical.
  2.  We're going to have major problems with LeBron but this would be a game to concentrate on him and dare other people to score no matter what that costs us.  I'll take my chances with any of the supporting cast before I'll let LeBron loose against single coverage.  Normally you'd say, "Well the star can't score all the points by himself so just shut down everybody else" but I really think LeBron could score them all.
  3.  Cleveland likes to keep games low-scoring, making you dance shot-for-shot with their superstar.  Extra points are going to help us a lot tonight.  Transition points, free throws...the aggressive bonuses matter.  To this end I don't think we can slow down.  You don't want their wings in an up and down game free but much as with Houston I think we have more chance of winning against them if we up the tempo a little.  Getting into the 100's against this team is a good idea.
  4.  We can't expect to come out soft and ratchet it up in the fourth quarter like last game.  BOTH units--starting and white--need to come out with energy and passion.
--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)