The Portland Trail Blazers bounced back after a second half collapse against the Milwaukee Bucks over the weekend with a solid win against the Indiana Pacers on Monday. Jerami Grant was electric with 34 points on 12 for 18 shooting from the field and 3 for 3 accuracy from deep. Deandre Ayton had 22 points and Malcom Brogdon had 24, underlining an excellent night for the starting lineup.
The Cleveland Cavaliers found themselves in an unusual situation in their tournament game against the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday. With the game well in hand, other scores in their group meant that they almost certainly needed to not only win, but win by a gigantic amount. In the end the Cavs prevailed 128-105, but that margin of victory turned out insufficient to advance.
Portland Trail Blazers (5-12) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (10-8) - Thursday Nov. 30 - 4:00 p.m. Pacific
How to watch on TV: Root Sports, NBA League Pass
Trail Blazers injuries: Anfernee Simons, Robert Williams III, Ish Wainright (out)
Cavaliers injuries: Ricky Rubio, Ty Jerome, Dean Wade (out)
SBNation Affiliate: Fear the Sword
Blazer’s Edge Reader Questions
6’5” Max Strus was signed to be their starting small forward. How would you access his fit and value to the team based on the first 18 games?
It’s a work in progress. He’s playing 35.1 minutes per game, just under seven minutes more per game than he did last year for an injury-riddled Miami Heat. With the extra minutes his numbers have all gone up and he looks the part of a viable starting small forward. “Viable” might not be a ringing endorsement, but it’s still early days. Strus is on a four-year, $63 million contract, a significant investment. For that money he’s certainly filling a need that went largely unfilled last season, namely three point shooting that opens the floor for Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland and Evan Mobley. If the team can grow together - and stay together after this season - it’s highly likely Strus will be a key part of any success in their future.
What’s the temp in Cleveland? Are they feeling good about their 8th place team? They were supposed to be good, but had an ugly loss in the playoffs, regression from some of their players, rumors of Mitchell signing with NY in 2 years, draft picks gone for the rest of the decade. They had the top ranked defense (by nba.com drating) last year, and now they’re 12th. They wanted to improve their 3 pt shooting, and it’s gotten worst. Are they panicking yet, or will a loss to the Blazers push them over the edge?
I’d say fans are tending to fit somewhere along a continuum between cautious optimism to fighting off feelings of impending doom. Cleveland certainly hoped to be knocking on the door to join the club at the top of the East, and that hasn’t happened yet. Still, there is a lot of talent on this team, and a nice mix of youth and experience. There’s also a feeling - or is it a hope - that their best basketball this season has yet to be played. On the impending doom side of things, Blazers fans can sympathize with the near-constant murmurings about Donovan Mitchell playing in New York or some other primo destination in the not too distant future. With only this season and next left on his contract before a player option in 2025-26, it feels like this season is do-or-die if the Cavaliers are to secure a contract extension with their star. Eighth place in the East isn’t a disaster in November, but come January they’ll need to improve on that if they want to be taken seriously. The jury is out as to whether that is achievable.
Thanks for the questions!
What To Watch For
On average... The Cavaliers are a remarkably average team right now. Seven teams are ahead of them in the East, and seven teams are behind them. They are 20th in the NBA in three point percentage, 13th in free throw percentage, 11th in rebounds, 18th in assists, 17th in turnovers, 16th in steals, 10th in blocks... pretty much in that middle third in most every statistic. Advanced statistics tell a similar story. This is an average team, with slightly better than average shooting at 47.8% from the field. The problem for the Blazers is that they have usually been a below average team. On Monday the Blazers weren’t spectacular, but they were better than average. They defended well in spots and they shot the three very well, finishing at 50%... well above average. If the Blazers do those two things again there is no reason they can’t give Cleveland all they can handle.
- Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell is carrying the scoring load for the Cavaliers, averaging 28 points per game with 5.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists thrown in for good measure. He’s also been consistent, scoring in double-digits every time he’s suited up this season, and he only failed to reach 20 points once. He’s clearly the danger man for the Cavs, and the Blazers will struggle to contain him.
About the Opponent
Tommy Wild of Cavs Insider says to not forget about Georges Niang.
Niang has especially excelled as the trailer in transition and as a spot-up shooter. 52.8% of his threes come when taking zero dribbles and Niang is shooting 35.8% on those shots.
This is exactly what Cleveland was missing from their offense last season and what they had envisioned when they signed Niang over the summer.
Tournament tiebreakers added a new quirk for some teams including Cleveland. ESPN News Services explains.
Trailing by 20 against Cleveland, Atlanta Hawks coach Quin Snyder pulled his starters with 3:54 left. However, Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff stuck with his first team the rest of the way, hoping it could open an even bigger lead to advance.
As some of Cleveland’s assistants monitored the out-of-town games from their seats, the Cavs didn’t let up.
Don’t draw any conclusions just yet about the Cavs writes Jason Lloyd in The Athletic (subscription required).
Injuries to Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen at various points have limited the actual starting lineup to just seven games together. The Cavs are 3-4 with that group following a weekend split of home games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Toronto Raptors, but seven games obviously isn’t enough time together to draw any logical conclusions. Now that the key pieces are all relatively healthy and off the injury report, hopefully they can stay that way.