Portland Trail Blazers (8-8) at Cleveland Cavaliers (10-2)
Nov. 23, 2016, 4:00 PST
Watch: CSN NW; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Festus Ezeli (out), Al-Farouq Aminu (out)
Cavaliers injuries: None
SBN Affiliate: Fear the Sword
A day after a tough 107-103 loss to the New York Knicks, the Portland Trail Blazers head to Cleveland to take on the defending NBA Champs in the final game of a five-game road trip.
The Cavaliers bring back essentially the same squad that won it all last season, headed by LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. James - averaging 23 points, eight rebounds, and nine assists - continues to be one of the most devastatingly efficient players in the game, shooting nearly 56 percent from inside the 3-point line. Though he’s racked up a ton of miles over his career, LeBron is nearly unstoppable when driving to the rim and possesses elite court vision.
Irving, fresh off of his heroics in the NBA Finals last season, is leading the Cavs in scoring this year, putting up 24 points a night while shooting 40 percent from deep. Irving is one of the quickest point guards in the league with the ball in his hands, and while he poses a challenge for any opponent in the league, he’s a particularly difficult matchup for Damian Lillard.
Much-maligned power forward Kevin Love is experiencing something of a resurgence this year. After seeing his scoring fall below 20 points per game and his rebounding fall below 10 per game in his first two seasons in Cleveland, Love is averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds a night so far this year. He still shoots his fair share of 3-pointers, but has reduced his output to fewer than five attempts from the perimeter per night, his lowest average since the 2010-11 season.
Cleveland rounds out its starting lineup with center Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith. Thompson does little in the the way of scoring, but plays solid interior defense and gobbles up more than 10 rebounds a night. Smith averages fewer than 10 shots per game, eight of them from beyond the arc, and often of the crazy heat-check variety.
The Cavs feature a solid veteran bench unit consisting of Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson, and Mike Dunleavy all playing more than 15 minutes per night.
Cleveland also sports the NBA’s fourth-best margin of victory, commits the second-fewest turnovers, has the fourth-ranked offense, and the ninth-ranked defense.
(Oh, and the Cavs have also been off since last Friday — remember the last time the Blazers played a well-rested team on the second night of a back-to-back set of games? Yikes.)
Though they lost to the Knicks last night, the Trail Blazers continued to show improvement, out-rebounding their opponent for the third straight game after not having done so since opening night. They also committed fewer careless fouls, limiting New York to eight free throw attempts.
The biggest issue for the Blazers continues to be porous defense and allowing opponents too many easy shots at the rim. Expect Maurice Harkless to be assigned to James and, though Ed Davis has started the last three games and done well, don’t be surprised to see Meyers Leonard get the start at power forward to match up with Love.
Ultimately, this is going to be a very difficult game for Portland to pull out a win; they’re struggling, they’re at the end of a five-game road trip, and they’re facing the defending NBA champs. Stranger things have happened, but all the things that have been going wrong for Portland over the last several weeks will need to go right for the Blazers to pull this one out and move back over .500.
Blazer’s Edge Night 2017
Want to assist us in sending 2,000+ underprivileged Portland-area kids to a Trail Blazers game this spring? Check out Blazer’s Edge Night 2017 for information on how to get involved, and help spread the word!