1. Portland has been excellent on offense this season and runs a very precise offense that has been proven difficult to contain. How can the Cavaliers disrupt their flow?
David MacKay, Rip City Project EIC: The Trail Blazers are on their third game of a 4-in-5, so they’ll be awfully tired (especially after overtime in Detroit). The Cavaliers must take advantage of this and harass the Trail Blazers for 48 minutes. Head coach Terry Stotts will want to rest the starters when he can for the Timberwolves tomorrow, but he won’t sacrifice a win to do it. If the Cavaliers can get/hold a lead, or even keep the game close, they’ll force his hand and be rewarded with exhausted Portland starters late in the game. I still don’t think Cleveland’s middling perimeter defense has much of a shot at containing Portland’s shooters (apologies). Their best bet is to keep the Trail Blazers off of the offensive glass and prevent the second chance opportunities that make Portland’s outrageous scoring average possible. If Anderson Varejao can neutralize Robin Lopez, the rest of the Trail Blazers will have to work that much harder for their points. Fewer scoring opportunities mean longer minutes for Portland’s big guns, and fatigue favors Cleveland.
Trevor Magnotti, Staff Writer: Beating Portland is reliant on stopping penetration and ball movement. This team has a ton of outside shooting and also can attack you in ISO situations with Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, making them a dangerous well-rounded offense. Aldridge can drag Tristan Thompson away from the basket with his shooting, which opens things up further. Really, what the Cavs need to do is communicate well and have good rotations, something they aren’t consistent with. I’d expect to see some small-ball out of Cleveland to keep up with Portland’s quickness, especially when Aldridge plays center, and potentially see a little bit more Anderson Varejao and/or Earl Clark at the four, but honestly, this has the potential to be a train wreck for the Cavs defense.
Chris Manning, RightDownEuclid EIC: All in all, the Cavaliers are going to need to be smart here, closing out on open shooters and putting pressure on whomever has the ball in their hands. This video shows that Portland does a great job of moving the ball and creating open looks that catch the defense guard. Thus, Cleveland will need to be A) always active and B) smart on switches and in pick & roll defense. Ultimately, the best lineup to combat Portland’s offense would probably include Earl Clark, Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao in the frontcourt. Andrew Bynum just is not mobile enough to handle everything the Trail Blazers will throw at him, and that trio can give you length and mobility at all three spots. As long as Varejao’s tendency to hedge hard doesn’t create too many open looks in the middle, this is the way for the Cavaliers to go against Portland.
2. LaMarcus Aldridge has been phenomenal this season. How can the Cavaliers slow him down?
DM: Aldridge butters his bread at the elbow, but he’s less automatic than a lot of fans realize. If you let him back you down, you’re already in trouble because he’s just creating space for the shot he wants. However, if you play him close and make sure his only shooting option is to spin right, you’ve gained the upper-hand. It’s the biggest hole in his post game, and Tristan Thompson has to exploit it. That will be no easy task, since Aldridge has three inches and 15 pounds on him, but teams that recognize LA’s defect are the reason he quietly shoots a meager 40.9 percent on post-up plays. Don’t tell anyone.
TM: Aldridge can definitely kill you with his scoring, but his passing adds a unique aspect to the game that makes him even more difficult to defend. The Blazers are really strong on misdirection plays and backdoor cuts, and this is accentuated by getting Aldridge the ball and letting him suck the defense to him and getting the ball to the back to cutting wings. It’s going to be imperative that Thompson and Varejao defend him well in the post, of course, but I think if the Cavs can play really well against these cuts, it’ll limit the options for Aldridge and force him to take things into his own hands. This could end up hurting the Cavs, but it will disrupt the Blazers offense, and that’s going to be key.
CM: By far, Aldridge has the potential to make this game a nightmare for the Wine & Gold. As David mentioned above, Tristan Thompson (who will start opposite of Aldridge at the four spot) will be operating at a size disadvantage. I expect the Cavaliers to handle Aldridge like they handled Blake Griffin: with lots of help-side defense and letting Thompson go one-on-one down low, as he’s solid defending down low. Also expect Anderson Varejao – who irritated Griffin so much so that the Clippers star shoved him to the ground – to spend time defending the former Texas Longhorn. All in all, the Cavaliers can’t expect to completely stop Aldridge (he’s far too good and the Cavaliers struggled against the similar skill set of Kevin Love) but they should be able to frustrate him with double teams, help defense and consistent physical play on the block.
3. Who will win the point guard battle: 2012 Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving or 2013 Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard?
DM: Kyrie is likely to put up bigger numbers, but mainly because he’s Cleveland’s only dependable offensive weapon (again, apologies). The Cavaliers rely on him more than the Trail Blazers do Damian. On the other hand, he’ll be challenged on defense by Wesley Matthews, who has vastly improved (among other things) his lateral quickness. I foresee a spotty performance from both point guards, though I believe Damian makes his teammates better than Kyrie does. If I were a betting man, I’d say your man scores more points, but ours has the better game. I just hope “more points” is not exorbitantly so, or the Trail Blazers will have a rough night. There is a reason the Cavaliers are 7-3 at home.
TM: Kyrie’s playing really well over the last few games, going for 37 points and 11 assists against New York, and 31 points against Orlando. Lillard’s definitely been the better scorer this season, but the way that Kyrie’s played over the last couple of weeks, he should give Portland some problems as well. I think this is going to be an exciting matchup to watch, mainly because defense is not a thing either player does well. If we get 30-point nights out of both guys, that’s going to be fun.
CM: The advantage here goes to Irving. While Lillard is a nice player (and is improving on defense, something Irving has not done) he isn’t on Irving’s level, and history backs me up. When these two matched up last season, Irving outscored Lillard 31 to 13 and held Lillard to 3-9 shooting from the field. And despite his slow start, Irving has Lillard beat in most categories this season as well. The Cavaliers star has far more tools at this disposal than Lillard as well. I do expect Portland to do a better job of getting Lillard looks and he’ll score around his average, but Irving is the better player, plain and simple.