LAST TIME OUT
Against the Miami Heat on Saturday, the Cavaliers were down by as many as 19 but rallied after Mike Brown was ejected. Still, the Wine & Gold fell to the Heat, 114-107. LeBron James led all scorers with 25, while Kyrie Irving led the Cavaliers with 19. Dion Waiters added 16 off the bench on 5-11 shooting. All in all, it wasn’t a win, but it was a commendable Cavaliers’ effort against one of the NBA’s elite teams.
THIS TIME UP
The Opponent: Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 21-4 (11-2 on the road)
Tipoff: Dec. 16 at 7:00 p.m. – Quicken Loans Arena
Where you can watch: Fox Sports Ohio/NBA League Pass
Where you can listen: WTAM 1100
Previous Matchup: 93-88 Cavaliers win January 16th last season
Opponent’s Blog: Rip City Project
Trail Blazers: None
How can the Cavaliers slow down LaMarcus Aldridge?
Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge is playing great basketball this season and has reignited the great NBA power forward debate between himself, Minnesota’s Kevin Love, Blake Griffin of the Clippers, Tim Duncan of the Spurs and Anthony Davis of the Pelicans. He’s also the type of player that can give the Cavaliers some serious issues. He’s great in the mid-range and, despite finishing only around 40 percent of his post-ups this season, is superb playing with his back to the basket. Thus, Cleveland will need to be creative in defending the former Texas Longhorn. Tristan Thompson will be giving up both height and weight, but he may be the best option. Anderson Varejao may also be a solid choice, considering how good he is at pestering opposing power forwards and getting in their heads. However, due to Varejao’s tendency to hedge hard when defending pick & rolls, he could be a liability. Truth be told, there is not a perfect answer to this question. But how the Cavaliers handle Aldridge will largely determine how this game plays out.
Kyrie Irving versus Damian Lillard
These two players (who are also the last two winners of the NBA Rookie of the Year Award) are similar, but also different. Lillard has settled into the second-fiddle role behind Aldridge, has shown real improvements on defense and sets up his teammates with ease. Irving, just now returning to form, is proving to be a score-first guard and is less reliant on his teammates. The stats, which have Irving slightly ahead, make this an interesting matchup.
I would give the edge to Irving in this matchup, but it’s closer than you might think. The Cavaliers star torched Lillard for 31 in their last meeting, with Portland’s representative only scoring 13. For the Cavaliers to win tonight, they’ll need a similar performance that also sees Irving get six-plus assists. He’ll also need to limit Lillard’s scoring, staying in front of him and playing smart pick & roll defense. Possibly more so than the Aldridge-Thompson/Varejao matchup, this showdown dictates how this game ultimately plays out.
The importance of wing defense
In the Cavaliers worst losses (against the Celtics, Spurs and Hawks, to name three) they have been victimized by ball movement. While the Cavaliers’ are 13th in defending the three-pointer, they tend to get exposed when teams swing the ball around the wing in pursuit of an open look. Take the Miami game from this past Saturday for example. Dion Waiters – largely defending Ray Allen – would come over into the middle in help defense. Miami – probably the NBA’s best passing team – immediately swung the ball back around and Allen then got an open look that. This happens time and time again with the Cavaliers defense, and Portland – with Lillard, Nic Batum and other shooters on the wing – can do the exact same thing to the Cavaliers defense, which has been solid, but also largely inconsistent.
Portland also does a great job of running quick plays that result in easy looks at the basket, and they will need to be slowed down by the Cavaliers wings. Everything considered, the Wine & Gold will need to be alert on the wing, be physical and avoid floating around. Without an elite shot blocker on the backend to protect the rim, it will be up the the wings to slow down Portland’s offense, and I’m not sure if they have proven that they are up to the challenge.
The Cavaliers, ultimately, won’t be able to handle what Portland brings to the table. The Trail Blazers have excellent ball movement and execute a precise offense. With LaMarcus Aldridge playing MVP-level basketball and Portland executing well on offense, Cleveland is ultimately going to succumb and lose this game by at least nine, serving as a reminder that – despite improvements – there is a gap between the Cavaliers and the NBA’s elite.