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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Cleveland Cavaliers Preview

Can the Blazers put an end to their five game losing streak tonight against Lebron James and the Cavaliers?

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Portland Trail Blazers (11-20) vs Cleveland Cavaliers (19-8)
Saturday, December 26
Moda Center | 7:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: KGW; 620 AM
Portland injury report
: Damian Lillard (Our- Foot) | Cleveland injury report: Kyrie Irving (Out- Rest)
SBN Affiliate: Fear the Sword | Blazer's Edge Night 2016

Update 2: According to David McMenamin, the Cavs will rest Kyrie Irving tonight.

Update: Damian Lillard will not play tonight, according to the team.


The Trail Blazers (11-20) return to the Moda Center tonight desperate for a win after a disappointing 0-5 road trip. Unfortunately for the Blazers, the schedule makers did them no favors; Tonight's opponent, the Cleveland Cavaliers (19-8), are the top team in the Eastern Conference.

This matchup is the second meeting between the Blazers and Cavaliers this season. The Cavs won the first game 105-100 on December 9. LeBron James led the way for Cleveland with 33 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists, while Damian Lillard paced the Blazers with 33 points, six rebounds and six assists. The Blazers jumped to an early first half lead, but the Cavs rallied in the second half when coach David Blatt benched Timofey Mozgov in favor of a smallball lineup. James finished the off the Blazers with 14 points in the final frame.

The December 9 win against the Blazers may have been a turning point for the Cavs. Prior to that game they often looked inconsistent and lethargic, but after that victory they won five consecutive games, including a win over the streaking Oklahoma City Thunder, before yesterday's 89-83 loss to the Golden State Warriors.

On offense, the Cavs are right in the middle of the pack averaging 101.4 points per game. However, that number is a bit deceiving : The Cavs have the fourth highest offensive rating (104.9) in the league, but grind to 95.4 possessions (No. 28 overall). They are a good outside shooting team, averaging 9.8 3-point field goals per game on 36 percent shooting. The Cavs also have the sixth best field goal percentage within five feet, and have the fourth highest eFG% (51.4) in the NBA. Despite their slow pace Cleveland is still effective in transition averaging about 13 fast break points per game.

On defense the Cavs hold their opponents to 95.2 points per game (No. 3) and have the sixth best defensive rating (98.8). They chase teams off the 3-point line well, surrendering only 7.2 triples per game (No. 6) on 33 percent shooting (No. 7). They are disciplined, allowing very few fast break points or second chance points. The Cavs have been especially effective since Iman Shumpert returned earlier this month. Shumpert is an elite perimeter defender and has sparked a return to the form that helped the team make the NBA Finals last year.

Much of the Cavs' success comes from the versatility of their personnel, which allows Blatt to match up against virtually any other style in the league. At the center of that versatility is James - it's easy to morph a lineup to fit any whim when a 6-foot-9, 270 pound forward with the playmaking skills of a guard and rebounding ability of a power forward anchors your lineup.

The versatility has served Blatt well this season as he compensates for Mozgov's early season struggles. The Cavs' starting center has looked less mobile than usual and struggled to rebound due to lingering injuries. Blatt has slowly reduced Mozgov's minutes to fewer than 20 per game.

Despite Mozgov's struggles, the Cavs have still succeeded thanks partially to the synergistic play of Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love. Thompson, who spent much of the summer negotiating an exorbitant contract, has been better than expected defending around the basket, while also averaging seven points and 10 rebounds per game. As a point of reference, he more or less plays like a bigger and stronger Ed Davis.

Similarly, Love has rebounded from speculation that he may not want to stay in Cleveland to average 17.5 points and 10.6 rebounds and has played some solid defense. He still probably shoots too many threes for a power forward (nearly half his shots), and can't guard mobile playmaking forwards like Draymond Green, but the Cavs have a strong enough team to hide Love's weaknesses while exploiting his skills.

At guard the Cavs have been boosted by the recent returns of Shumpert and Kyrie Irving. Irving is a super-talented player who can score in bunches and is one of the best ballhandlers in the league. He can get to the rim at will and is also a good shooter. Blazers fans saw how effective Irving can be last season when he torched the Portland for 55 points on 11 3-pointers.

Fortunately for Portland fans, tonight will only be Irving's fourth game back from a fractured left kneecap suffered during last year's Finals. Irving is still working off the rust and will likely be on a minutes restriction.

In addition to Irving and Shumpert, the Cavs also have J.R. Smith, Mo Williams, and Matthew Dellavedova at guard. Smith and Williams are streaky shooting guards who provide instant offense, but are not great defenders. Williams has played well this season, averaging 10.6 points and 3.9 assists on 48 percent shooting. Dellavedova is the epitome of "scrap" - a hustling, physical defender that uses every trick in the book to slow down opposing guards. He is the type of player that fans love to have on their own team but despise when he suits up for anyone else.

Jared Cunningham and Richard Jefferson have rounded out the Cavs rotation this season.

Keys to the game

(Note: These all assume Lillard is healthy enough to play well. We saw on Wednesday against the Pelicans that without him the Blazers are Los Angeles Lakers-level bad.)

Catch the Cavs sleeping: The Cavs are coming off a Finals rematch, on national TV, against a historically great team, on the biggest day of the NBA regular season. Gee...does anyone think there's potential for a letdown? The Blazers will probably have an opportunity to take advantage of a less than 100 percent motivated opponent and jump to an early lead. The Cavs did successfully come back from a first half deficit in the last game against Portland, but grabbing a 10-15 point first half lead tonight would at least give the Blazers a fighting chance.

Find ways to get easy buckets via early offense: The Cavs don't give up fast break points and don't let opponents get open threes. They also don't give up second chance points and the Blazers don't get very many free throws. Portland must find a way to buck one of those trends and score some easy points. One possibility is to try to score early in the shot clock on secondary fast breaks as the Cavs are still transitioning into their individual defensive assignments.

Rebounding: Tonight's game will likely have few possessions. The Blazers' margin of error will be small so they cannot give Cleveland extra chances to score. If Ed Davis, or anyone else, can also grab a few extra rebounds it would help greatly.



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