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The Cavaliers are riding a three game losing streak on the road and have to play in Portland tonight. What could ever go wrong?
The Cavaliers didn't bring their defense with them to Sacramento and played an ugly, but eminently watchable game against the Kings, falling 124-118. Tonight, they have to travel to Portland for the fourth game of the five game road trip from hell.
When? 10 P.M. Eastern
Where? Rose Garden -- Portland, OR
Where on my eyeballs? Fox Sports Ohio / NBA League Pass
Tickets? Cleveland Cavaliers' Tickets
Dream of the 1890s - Portlandia on IFC (via ifc)
Why Should You Watch? This game is going to be billed as the first matchup of what hopes to be many between last season's rookie of the year, Cleveland's Kyrie Irving, and this year's presumptive nominee for rookie of the year, Portland's Damian Lillard. Irving is the highest scoring point guard in the NBA so far this season at 23.0 points-per-game, and also averages 5.6 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game. Lillard has been the catalyst for Portland's surprising success this season, averaging 18.3 points and 6.5 assists per game. Neither point guard has been particularly strong defensively this year, so I am expecting something of an offensive shootout between the two of these young, budding stars.
Any Former Cavaliers to Care About? I'm sure the thing that most Cleveland fans are going to be looking forward to is getting to see the supposed "breakout" of J.J. Hickson in person. Hickson has been pretty solid numerically for the Blazers so far, averaging 12.0 and 10.9 rebounds. His rebounding number looks particularly gaudy, however according to Neil Paine of Basketball-Reference.com they have been fool's gold:
Superficially speaking, Hickson appears to be one of the league's best rebounders, averaging 10.8 boards per game (sixth-best in the NBA) with a 21.7 rebounding percentage (fourth-best). However, there's plenty of evidence that many of those rebounds have simply been stolen from his teammates, not opponents. Only Anderson Varejao and Reggie Evans have a bigger differential between their own rebounding rates and those of their teammates, but at least Varejao and Evans lead their teams to above-average rebound percentages while on the floor -- and improve their teams' rebounding when in the game. Despite Hickson's gaudy individual stats, the Blazers have a negative net rebound rate with him in the lineup, and they actually rebound at a better rate when he's not on the floor.
Hickson should probably be able to go to work on Tyler Zeller in the paint on the offensive glass, as Hickson is seventh among NBA centers in offensive rebounding rate at 14.7 and Zeller is very below average in defensive rebounding rate at 16.0 (it has actually gotten worse since Varejao out, as it is only at 15.0 since Zeller was inserted into the starting lineup). Look out for that as the game goes on tonight, as both of these players play extensive minutes as I'll mention later.
Key Matchup? The biggest matchup in tonight's game will almost certainly be Tristan Thompson vs. LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge is in the top ten in scoring in the NBA at 20.5 points per game. He scores a majority of his points in the midrange game (about 40% of his shots come from 16-23 feet), so Thompson will need to be able to go out and get a hand up on Aldridge's shot attempts. I'm also a little bit concerned about what Aldridge's length and athleticism is going to do against Thompson's developing offensive game.
Tonight's Bench Battle? These are probably the two worst bench units in the NBA. Portland is averaging the least bench points per game so far this year at 16.9 (almost ten points per game less than the second worst team). The Cavs are certainly better than that, but not by much as they only average 26.4. I'm most looking forward to the out-of-shape battle of the Lukes between Luke Babbitt and Luke Walton, which might set basketball back by 25 years. The Cavs definitely do have an advantage scoring here by bringing Dion Waiters off the bench, but we'll see if he can pick up where he left off on Monday versus the Kings and be a spark plug of efficiency. Overall though, I'm pretty sure that the ineptitude of these two benches will make everyone want to turn their televisions off when they're on the floor together.
Anything Else? -The Rose Garden has been a pretty strong advantage for the Blazers this year as they're at 13-5 there so far. Along with that the Cavs are horrible on the road at 5-19. Also, the Blazers will probably pretty annoyed with their 115-11 loss to the Nuggets in overtime last night.
-Having said that they'll probably be pretty annoyed with that loss, this is a team with the least depth in the NBA coming off of an overtime game. There's a decent chance they'll be pretty tired.
-I can't forget to mention Nicolas Batum, who has been sensational this year and is finally figuring it out for the Blazers. He's another borderline All-Star for this squad like Lillard. He's an especially good off-the-ball player on offense, meaning Alonzo Gee could have some trouble guarding him.
-C.J. Miles' shooting seems to finally be regressing to the mean after his insanely cold November and equally as hot December. If Waiters can keep playing like he did in Sacramento on Monday, the starting job could be up for grabs again.
-Some good guys to follow that write about the Trail Blazers: Ben Golliver (@blazersedge), Sean Highkin (@shighkinNBA), Danny Nowell (@dmnowell), Maddison Bond (@maddisonbond)
Fear The Sword's Fearless Prediction: Kyrie gets the better of his matchup with Lillard but the Blazers' inside game is a little bit too much for the younger Cavaliers, and the Cavs' bench can't take advantage enough of the awful Portland bench. The Cavs jump out to an early lead because the Blazers are sluggish early, but the Blazers get the lead early in the second half and pull away a little bit at the end. The Cavs' road trip from hell continues. 104-90 Blazers.