1. Dame Lillard was on fire in the first matchup between these two teams. What can the Cavaliers do better this time around to slow down Lillard?
Chris Manning, Right Down Euclid Co-EIC: This game is going to be a fairly decent gauge of where the Cavaliers are at in defending point guards. All year, opposing points – Lillard, Isaiah Thomas, Jeff Teague, etc – have burned the Cleveland defense big time. This is especially true for the Cavaliers pick & roll defense, which Lillard can tell you leaves lots of openings for penetration and three pointers. Kyrie Irving and whomever else will need to get up near Lillard and allow him no space. I’d also like the Cavaliers to try and trap Lillard in the corners and either get the ball out of his hands and make errant cross court paasses. Yhis has to be a main strategy point tonight if the Cavaliers have any hope of victory.
Trevor Magnotti, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: Yeah. Umm…..Mayyyybe trying to defend a pick-and-roll once or twice in this game? Lillard burned the Cavs off of PNRs in the first matchup, mostly turning ball-screens into wide open threes off the dribble. He’s also a champ at pulling up in transition, which the Cavs don’t defend well at all. Cleveland did a pretty good job of corralling everyone else on the Blazers in the last match-up, but they basically let Lillard do whatever he wanted for the entire game. I feel like better defense of Lillard will be a point of emphasis for the Cavs, especially with what Isaiah Thomas just did to them Sunday in a similar fashion.
David MacKay, Rip City Project EIC: For goodness sake, step out on him. Damian Lillard buried eight three-pointers in their last meeting. On any given night Lillard attempts seven threes, making over 44 percent of them. It baffled me to watch the Cleveland defense let him pull up time and time again with a generous cushion. Kyrie Irving needs to be mindful of the high screen and do at least a little bit more than lazily float around it. The Cavaliers don’t have Bynum to allow easy layups on the interior anymore, so they need to lock up the perimeter extra tightly before Lillard gets hot.
2. What difference can newly acquired small forward Luol Deng make for the Cavaliers in this rematch?
CM: It’s all about Deng’s defensive abilities here. In the first matchup between these two teams, Nic Batum was 3-13 from the field (and 2-8 from deep) and the Blazers still put up 119 points on the Cavaliers defense. Still, if Deng can keep Batum in check to a similar extent that will only help the Cavaliers shut down Portland’s offense. But I think Deng can have a bigger impact in helping slow down LaMarcus Aldridge in the mid-range game. When Portland runs a set with Batum and Aldridge on the same side, Deng could run a small elbow trap with Tristan Thompson and force Aldridge to make a contested pass. It’s risky, but all things considered, Deng is going to ideally help the Cavaliers defense look semi-functional here.
TM: Defensively, Deng’s going to be a key player for the Cavs tonight. Deng can really guard either wing position, so depending on where he’s needed, I could see him guarding Wes Matthews or Nicolas Batum. Deng also will be able to help disrupt Portland’s excellent ball-movement slightly, although the Blazers basically got all the open looks they wanted with dribble-penetration in the last game, so I don’t see that being a real difference-maker. Offensively, I think his main contribution will be in rebounding, where LaMarcus Aldridge killed the Cavs in the first matchup, and Deng should be able to keep Batum from being too strong on the glass. However, this Blazers team is a sieve against ISOs and defends off-ball cuts pretty well per Synergy, so the Cavs should be perfectly content to let their guards create the offense and not rely on Deng and the posts as much.
DM: Luol Deng is a brilliant off-ball defender. It may not show in his stat-line, but he was indirectly responsible for the success of the Chicago Bulls defense (6th rated in the last full season, 2nd in the season before). His ability to disrupt the swing pass and fight through screens is a tremendous perimeter asset. In theory, this works exceptionally against a Portland team that doesn’t run ISOs for small forward Nicolas Batum. Deng’s primary contribution tonight will be disrupting the Trail Blazers’ offensive flow.
3. Can we expect the high number of attempted threes we saw from both teams in the previous meeting?
CM: I would be shocked if these two teams come out bombing as heavy in they did in the first matchup and from Cleveland’s perspective, it would be a huge mistake. As much as I hate to say this, the Cavaliers are going to much better served to run isolations and pick & rolls heavily and attack the rim to have a chance against Portland. If the Cavaliers try and outgun Portland here, they will get burned by the marksmanship and ball movement of Portland, who probably will shoot a similar amount of threes. Thus, expect the Cavaliers to take fewer and thus lower the overall amount of threes taken in this game.
TM: I’d assume that the 50 three-pointers we saw in game one of the series was an anomaly, and not indicative of what either team will try tonight. Portland averages about 26 threes a game, but the Cavs attempt significantly less than that, and I’d assume that they won’t have the same rate because Deng launches significantly less threes than Earl Clark, and the Cavs will probably be attacking the Blazers in other ways in this one. While the Blazers still are a threat to make it rain from deep, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cleveland take less than even the 17 they tried in the first matchup.
DM: The Trail Blazers will probably still shoot close to the 30+ they attempted in their last meeting, but the Cavaliers won’t bother chucking half of that. Luol Deng doesn’t really shoot threes and, since he’ll absorb minutes that were previously dedicated to C.J. Miles (shooting a career high 41.3 percent from deep), Cleveland’s offense will have changed to accommodate him. There’s a good chance that Kyrie Irving will try to prove a point after being shown up by Damian Lillard last time, but I suspect that he’ll do the bulk of his damage at the rim tonight.