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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Cleveland Cavaliers Preview

After blowing a 4 point lead in the final minute against the Milwaukee Bucks last night, the Portland Trail Blazers head to Quicken Loans Arena to take on LeBron James and the Eastern Conference leading Cleveland Cavaliers.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (9-13) vs Cleveland Cavaliers (13-7)
Tuesday, December 8
Quicken Loans Arena | 4:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNW; 620 AM
Portland injury report
Chris Kaman (Questionable - ankle | Cleveland injury reportKyrie Irving (Out - knee), Iman Shumpert (Out - wrist), Mo Williams (Questionable - knee)
SBN Affiliate: Fear the Sword | Blazer's Edge Night 2016

The Blazers are coming off of a tough loss in Milwaukee last night, where they overcame slow shooting in the first half to come back and take the lead, only to have the Bucks score the final six points of the contest and steal the game 90-88.

The Cavs, who have dropped three games in a row, are still the team to beat out east, but they aren't dominating teams like we've come to expect. In fact, Cleveland has the seventh highest margin of victory this season, at 3.90, but ranks only No. 27 in terms of toughest schedule thus far. Cleveland does feature a fourth rated 106.7 ORtg to go along with a top-ten 102.6 DRtg, but the offense has at times seemed stagnant and too reliant on the LeBron James isolation plays of the Mike Brown era.

Of course, there are worse ways to go then to get the ball in LeBron's hands and let him work. Still a dominant player in his 13th NBA season, James is averaging 26.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 6.5 assists on 49 percent shooting from the floor. James is a multi-tooled threat on offense; able to take nearly anyone in the league off the dribble, capable of posting up defenders that may be quick enough to stay in front of him, and possessing superior court vision, passing ability, and a willingness to get his teammates involved.

The primary beneficiary of LeBron's willingness to get his teammates involved is forward Kevin Love. Last season, Love's first in Cleveland, he struggled to assert himself in the offense, preferring to float on the perimeter and often disappearing for stretches. This year, while he still plays a perimeter-oriented game, taking what would be a career high 45 percent of his shots from the 3-point line, Love's teammates are much more active in finding him. He has increased his scoring average up to 18.3 points per game to go along with 11.3 boards.

At center, Cleveland starts Timofey Mozgov and plays him in a platoon with Tristan Thompson. Mozgov is a solid post scorer and excellent rebounder, who struggles to defend against smaller lineups. Thompson, on the other hand, is an athletic defender who only runs in to trouble against larger centers. Thompson has also turned himself into one of the top offensive rebounders in the game, pulling down ten boards per game, three offensive.

While the Cavs have a solid frontcourt rotation, the backcourt leaves a little bit to be desired in its current form. Star point guard Kyrie Irving is not expected to return from his knee injury until around Christmas, so Cleveland has been starting a backcourt of Mo Williams and J.R. Smith. As you can imagine, this tandem puts up some...difficult shots, though Williams is actually having a nice season, shooting 48 percent from the field on 14 shots per game. However, he is nursing a minor knee injury and Matthew Dellavedova has started the last couple of games in his place.

Smith, on the other hand, is struggling through the first quarter of the season, attempting 13 shots per game and hitting at a 38 percent clip. He can get hot in a hurry, but he can quite easily be forced into trying to take over.

Prior to Williams' knee injury, Dellavedova and Richard Jefferson had been getting the bulk of the backup guard minutes and while neither is a high level player, Dellavedova in particular has had a nice season, shooting 43 percent from distance and racking up a 3.66 assist to turnover ratio.

This is a game where Portland's guards should be able to get good looks. Cleveland plays solid team defense, but Mo Williams and J.R. Smith are going to have a difficult time staying in front of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Their ability to get into space 12-17 feet out and stick the jump shot will be critical for loosening up the Cleveland defense.

Allen Crabbe should also factor in to this game. Averaging 12.8 points over his last five, Crabbe has excelled at hitting the assisted midrange jumper out to the 3-point line.

Mason Plumlee should have an advantage against Mozgov, since the Cleveland center struggles against quick, athletic big men. If Plumlee is able to get active in the high post like we've seen multiple times over the last few weeks, look for him to get Mozgov on his heels. The key for Plumlee, as always, is to stay energetic without bordering on out of control.

Look for Stotts to match up Ed Davis with Tristan Thompson. Davis has been on a tear lately, averaging 11 rebounds per game over his last five. With Thompson being the high level offensive rebounder that he is, Davis will be Portland's best bet for keeping him off of the glass.

Keys to a Blazer Victory

Make LeBron work: Al-Farouq Aminu is going to have his hands full with James tonight. No one fully stops LeBron James, but Aminu has the tenacity, length and lateral quickness to make LeBron have to expend a lot more energy getting his shot than he is accustomed to.

Meyers Leonard bounces back: After a terrible game against Milwaukee, Leonard will need to get back to his hot shooting ways against the Cavs. Likely to play significant minutes against Kevin Love, Leonard's 3-point shooting will be required to pull Love out of rebounding position, not to mention forcing him to play defense; something Love has shown little to no interest in over the last few seasons.

Lillard and McCollum combine for 50: The Blazers' two best offensive weapons by a long shot, Portland is tough to beat when both players are scoring in bunches. Going up against Williams, Smith, Jefferson, and Dellavedova gives Portland's starting guards the opportunity to get a decent look whenever they want it. No matter how much they seem to be coasting until they are at full health, the Cavs are a tough team, and it will take all of the firepower in Portland's backcourt in order to pull out a win.


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