LAST TIME OUT
So the Cleveland Cavaliers took on the Los Angeles Lakers last night, a team with an abundance of injury issues and that is, to be frank, a lock to be in the lottery. On paper, the Cavaliers should have wiped the floor with this team. But they struggled in the first half, were down at half time and were ultimately able to pull out the victory behind big nights from Anderson Varejao (who finished the night with 18 boards) and Luol Deng, who led the Cavaliers with 27 points. And, in an odd twist of fate, despite losing the Kings by 44 on Sunday, the win gave the Kings a better chance of getting a number one pick.
THIS TIME UP
The Opponent: Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 28-9 (15-4 at home)
Tipoff: January 14th at 10:00 p.m. – Moda Center
Where you can watch: Fox Sports Ohio/NBA League Pass
Where you can listen: WTAM 1100
Previous Meeting: Portland 119, Cleveland 116 on December 17th.
Opponent’s Blog: Rip City Project
Trail Blazers: None
The West Coast swing continues
This is a really interesting and timely game for the Cavaliers. In the midst of a long road trip where they are also acclimating a recent acquisition (Luol Deng) into the the starting five. Ideally, the Cavaliers would have wiped the floor with Utah (they did, kind of), taken out Sacramento (let’s forget that game ever happened, okay?) and then beat down a really awful Lakers team (that didn’t happen). This trip is a gut check for this Cavaliers team and so far they look as if they are going finish this trip keeled over – and tonight is a chance to fix that.
Portland is amongst the elite and a win tonight would be unexpected – but it’s not the most important thing here. Coming off two (and sans a second half run, three) straight ugly games. If the Cavaliers can come out, play this close and be competitive, that’s a victory itself and can somewhat salvage what has been a pretty disappointing trip.
What Thompson will show up?
Tristan Thompson did fairly well against LaMarcus Aldridge in their first showdown, although the MVP candidate did shoot 50 percent from the floor. Aldridge also pulled down 15 boards in this matchup and Thompson pulled just seven. And after breaking down some of the film, there are definite areas where Thompson can make some improvements and close the gap between himself and Aldridge.
First things first, Thompson will need to adjust his positioning and do a better job of cleaning up boards that come from jump shots. He’ll also have to adjust to Aldridge’s tendency to live in the mid-range. Most nights, Thompson lives around the basket and thus doesn’t have to go to far to grab boards. Against Aldridge, he won’t have that luxury. And all in all, Thompson is going to have to play a good game here for the Cavaliers to have a chance. He needs to rebound at a high level and keep Aldridge in check as much as he can.
A Tristan Thompson at his best can do these things. But will that Thompson show up?
Lillard vs. Irving, again
Two of the NBA’s brightest young stars match up here and, if it is anything like last time, we are in for a treat. Lillard and Irving dueled in Cleveland just a little under a month ago, with Lillard winning the battle by hitting the game winner. In Portland, I think he will have the upper hand – and here’s why.
The last few games – specifically the Kings games, where Isaiah Thomas did whatever he wanted to Irving – have lessened my faith in Irving’s defensive abilities. Even against the Lakers last night Irving struggled and that’s a discouraging sign. And, as it just so happens, Portland is primed to attack Irving with Lillard and in a variety of ways. They can PNR him to death. They can move Lillard off the ball and get him open looks. Or they can yet Lillard contribute for other teammates. And no matter how they attack, I see Irving struggling heavily. For him to have more success in this rematch, Kyrie will need to do a much better job of limiting lane penetration and giving Lillard space on the wing. If the can do that, the Cavs defense as a while will improve.
The Cavaliers will lose this game and probably by a decent amount. Portland can exploit the Cavaliers weaknesses on all levels and, even if the Cavaliers can score, Portland can just match that with no problem – after all, they did it the first time. However, expect this game to be much different than the first. Portland is very good, the Cavaliers are a much worse basketball team on the road and they have given me no confidence in saying that they can make this game competitive. Thus, I’ll take Portland 114, Cleveland 100.