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Portland Trail Blazers at Cleveland Cavaliers Preview

The Blazers look to notch a third straight road win, this time against Cleveland.

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NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Portland Trail Blazers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (36-23) at Cleveland Cavaliers (14-46)

Monday, February 25 - 4:00pm PT
Blazers injuries: Evan Turner (out)
Cavaliers injuries: Tristan Thompson (out), John Henson (out), J. R. Smith (out)
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

The Portland Trail Blazers are looking good and feeling good after three wins in a row, all by at least 14 points. It’s still so very early in his tenure with Portland, but Enes Kanter has seemed to provide a spark. Opponents have been unable to keep Kanter off the glass, and struggled to deal with the one-two punch of two quality centers the Blazers have in Nurkic and Kanter. What seemed a week ago like a brutal road trip now feels like it could be a great springboard for the rest of the season. Of course, all of those good feelings will go out the window if the Blazers can’t take care of business against the 14-win Cavaliers.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have had a long season, but they may be playing their best basketball right now. Kevin Love has returned after a long absence due to injury, and if his 32-point performance against the Memphis Grizzlies is anything to go by, he is playing very good basketball. The Cavs are winners of three of their last four, the only loss during that stretch being a triple-overtime defeat to the Brooklyn Nets.

What to watch for

  • Kevin Love. A toe injury has kept Love out of the lineup for most of the season, but he’s back — and playing well. His last game was the third time he has seen the court since returning, and in that game he put up 32 points, went 6-of-9 from deep, shot 60% overall, pulled down 12 rebounds and was a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line. Not bad for just 26 minutes of work. Expect Love’s minutes to be restricted to under 30, but don’t be surprised if his time on the court is very productive.
  • Rebounds, especially offensive. Portland has been a top-5 rebounding team by nearly every measure all year. Two games with Enes Kanter and it looks like the Blazers might have yet another gear. Over those two games the Blazers have pulled down a total of 113 rebounds, 38 of the offensive variety. Enes has pulled down 17 of those boards since arriving, including eight offensive rebounds. What’s more, his energy on the glass seems to be contagious as others have stepped up their totals, too. Just as an example, Jake Layman added 16 of his own over the last two games, with eight of those being offensive. Kevin Love can board, but expect the Blazers to once again have a fine effort on the glass against a generally average-rebounding Cleveland team.
  • A revitalized Moe Harkless. After reaching double figures just six times all season before early February, Harkless has achieved at least 10 points in each of the last three games. He’s also been rebounding well, playing good defense and has just looked more active and engaged. We’ve seen this movie before: a few games of solid play followed by some head-scratchingly indifferent play. Still, there is reason for Blazer’s fans to be optimistic. The schedule has allowed plenty of time lately for recovery, so it just might be that he has finally fully healed from injury and is now fully equipped to contribute.

What they’re saying

Having Kevin Love miss most of the season wasn’t the plan, but now that he is back, Cleveland can look at the bright side according to Chad Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

The bumpy journey without Love has led the Cavaliers to where they are today -- and it’s not all bad. Because of his injury and the losses that followed, they will be able to keep their protected 2019 first-round pick instead of giving it away to the Atlanta Hawks, which will allow them to add another youngster (Zion Williamson? RJ Barrett? Ja Morant?) to this nucleus -- a pleasant byproduct. Love’s loss also accelerated the growth of a few of the core pieces. Now those potential franchise building blocks have started to pave a path back to respectability.

Cleveland found itself in the unenviable position of needing to rebuild after having traded so many draft picks away while LeBron was in town. Still, Evan Dammarell of Forbes writes that the club is making progress:

The problem is, after trying to contend for so long the team’s available draft capital was non-existent and the odds appeared stacked against the Cavaliers. Well, leading up to the annual NBA trade deadline, Cleveland general manager Koby Altman was able to make something out of nothing by moving Kyle Korver, George Hill, Sam Dekker, Rodney Hood and Alec Burks in various trades to bring in Matthew Dellavedova, John Henson, the Houston Rockets’ 2019 first-round pick, the Milwaukee Bucks’ 2021 first-round pick and six second-round picks over the next four years. Altman was able to ship off the majority of Cleveland’s expiring contracts to help kickstart the team’s at Liberty Ballers, Hesi-Pullup-Adio explores the hype build-up around the new Sixers line-up, which—despite shifting circumstances—has some advantages ahead:

The Cavaliers haven’t won many games this year, but things are looking up and there are real positives to be found writes David Zavac of Fear the Sword:

Let’s be real. This recent Cavs run has come against poor competition. They’re 5-5 in their last 10 games, and they’ve taken advantage of games with the Bulls, Knicks, Suns, and Wizards. I don’t bring it up to diminish these wins, but to give them some context. In fact, for most of the season it hasn’t mattered who the Cavs played. They came into tonight’s game with the Grizzlies with the league’s worst net rating, having been outscored by 10.6 points per 100 possessions.

The Cavs are starting to beat some bad teams. When you’ve been the worst team, that’s improvement. We’ll take it.