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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Cleveland Cavaliers Preview

Portland looks to avenge an early January loss to Cleveland.

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Portland Trail Blazers v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Portland Trail Blazers (41-26) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (39-28)

Thursday, March 15th - 7:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: None
Cavaliers injuries: Kevin Love (out), Cedi Osman (out), Tristan Thompson (out), Larry Nance Jr. (questionable), Rodney Hood (questionable)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Fear the Sword

Riding high on a 10-game winning streak, the Portland Trail Blazers will face a serious test Thursday against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

While Portland currently has a better record than Cleveland with 15 games remaining, the Cavs are still a very capable team. It helps that, no matter what the controversy or supporting cast, they have LeBron James, the best player on the planet. LeBron, in his 15th season, is having one of his most efficient seasons yet, putting up 27 points, eight rebounds, and nine assists a night on 54 percent shooting.

With the season winding down, the Blazers have a handful of very difficult games remaining. A win Thursday against Cleveland would surely be a confidence booster for a Portland team that is already firing on all cylinders.

What to watch for

Who’s going to suit up? The Cavs are dealing with some injury problems — seemingly par for the course for a Blazer opponent. Kevin Love is still recovering from a broken hand. Tristan Thompson is out with a sprained ankle. Cedi Osman, Larry Nance Jr., and Rodney Hood are all questionable with various ailments. Even if Osman, Nance, and Hood are able to go, it’s possible that Cleveland is going to have to spread their minutes around pretty heavily. Look for Jeff Green, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, George Hill, and Jordan Clarkson to all eat up significant minutes Thursday.

Will Cleveland play defense? Despite moving Isaiah Thomas at the trade deadline, the Cavaliers are still struggling to get stops. They’ve allowed 100 points or more in 13 of their last 15 games. Over that span, they have the 20th defensive rating in the NBA. The Blazers? Fourth best in the association. With the Blazers’ offense ramping up in efficiency, the Cavs will need to bring their A-game on defense. Even then, I’m not sure that it will be enough to handle Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

Who is going to guard Nurkic? Nurkic has quietly seen an uptick in his efficiency since the turn of the calendar year. Of course, there was nothing quiet about his offensive explosion against Miami in Portland’s last game: Nurkic went off for 27 points and 16 boards on 12-of-18 shooting from the floor. Although, Miami was missing Hassan Whiteside and instead had to throw Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk at the big man. Cleveland is in a similar situation. Without Thompson, they don’t really have any solid options at center. 6’ 11” rookie Ante Zizic has shown flashes, but he’s nowhere near ready. Due to Thompson’s injury, he’s putting up decent numbers in short minutes, but Nurkic has to be licking his chops at the thought of this matchup.

What they’re talking about

ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne explained on “Outside the Lines” what’s wrong with the Cavs (as summed up by USA Today):

“There’s always a sense that ‘LeBron is LeBron,’ right? ‘LeBron will save us, LeBron will deliver us.’ But the longer this goes on, what’s becoming clear is they don’t have a sidekick for LeBron. They don’t have anybody else in the last five minutes of a game who can step up and deliver them baskets.

I don’t know that I would say there’s concern, there’s panic. I think everybody wants to see what happens when Kevin Love gets back, but that’s never been his role on this team. He’ll help their offense, but he’s not a guy who necessarily creates for himself off the dribble or takes pressure off LeBron. He certainly doesn’t help them defensively. So I think there’s the sense that ‘we are what we are.’”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Joe Vardon explains why Hill and the Cavaliers think now is not the time to panic:

“I don’t expect us to be 8-0 right now,” said Hill, who scored 17 points Saturday night. “I feel like early we was on that high horse, new to the city and new to the team so you’re kind of on cloud 9 to get away from your old stomping grounds, things like that. But once teams start scouting and figuring things out, we’ve just got to figure it out ourselves. Where we’re going as a team and what’s going to be our identity? It’s all new schemes for us defensively for four guys coming into a rotation to play with a playoff team like this is totally different. It’s going to take time.

”There’s no need for us to tip our head down. We’ve got to keep our head high and figure it out.”

Marla Ridenour from the Akron Beacon Journal discusses Kyle Korver’s role in the rotation:

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue might be tempted to keep Kyle Korver in the starting lineup.

The most recent example of Korver’s ability to play off LeBron James in Tuesday night’s rout of the Phoenix Suns was that effective, that compelling.

But the major roadblock isn’t hard to find. Korver turns 37 Saturday.

Lue must keep Korver fresh for the postseason, not run him down in the final 15 games. Korver is already playing on a sore right foot that has bothered him for over a week, although he conceded, “Wins always help everything feel a little better.”

Those realities return Lue and his staff to a dilemma that has confounded them for much of the season. They must find rotations that maximize the time Korver and James spend on the court together.

Korver started against the Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena after Lue benched shooting guard J.R. Smith, perhaps for the rest of the season. The Cavs were without forward Rodney Hood, who missed his second consecutive game with a lower back strain. Korver replaced Smith, Jeff Green filled in for Hood.