Coming off a big win on the road versus the Chicago Bulls, the Cleveland Cavaliers are headed to Portland to take on the Trail Blazers. A year ago, the Cavaliers were competitive with a Portland team that made the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference and beat the Houston Rockets in the first round.
This year, these figure to be very interesting games, as the teams are strong at the same positions. That obviously starts at point guard, as Cleveland's Kyrie Irving and Portland's Damian Lillard are amongst the best young players at the position. It then extends to power forward, where both Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge are top-five players at the position. Those matchups, plus the key battles at other positions, makes this a highly compelling game.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers at Portland Trail Blazers
When: 10 p.m. ET
Where: Rose Garden Arena - Portland, Oregon
Where to watch: NBA TV
The Dream of the 90s is Alive in Portland from the TV Show Portlandia
This is just feels right.
Portland is a strong test for the Cavs. The Trail Blazers, as mentioned above, match up well with Cleveland. Lillard, despite his slow start to the season, is right in the same class of point guard in Irving. And while he can't space the floor in the same way Love can, Aldridge is an elite offensive power forward with the ability to score both in the mid-range and down low.
Portland also has what very few teams have: A player who is both strong and quick enough to defending LeBron James on all areas of the floor. LeBron's career stats against Batum don't back up that claim exactly, but he's 6'8" and a very strong 200 pounds. And although his defensive rating last year of 100 was the lowest of his career, Batum has routinely had defensive ratings well over 100. The Trail Blazers can also use Wesley Matthews on James for stretches.
This game might be determined by the role players. Like with the stars, Cleveland and Portland matchvup well with the role players. The battle at center between Anderson Varejao and Robin Lopez figures to be physical and feature lots of flailing. On the wing, Dion Waiters will have his hands full with Matthews on both ends of the floor. And how will Tristan Thompson perform as a small five against the sturdy, if unspectacular, Chris Kaman?
The matchup between Waiters and Matthews is particularly interesting. Through the Cavs' first two games, Waiters has struggled to get into the Cavs' and is shooting 36.8 percent from the floor. He is shooting 40 percent from 3-point range, but it's too small a sample size for that be note worthy. The main issue with Waiters so far is that he is having trouble finding his moments to shoot. Heading into the season, we knew that Waiters was going to have to turn into more of a spot-up shooter and become comfortable pulling up for shots, or attacking the lane, quickly off a pass. Matthews, a capable defender, is a good gauge of how Waiters is coming along on offense. He's a smart defender and is typically in the right spot on defense. He's also physically strong, which negates one of Waiters' biggest strengths.
So the Cavs rotation is interesting. Cavs coach David Blatt admitted after Cleveland's opening night loss to the Knicks that he didn't properly manage the rotation. On opening night, Mike Miller only played three minutes and Shawn Marion only played. Comparatively, LeBron played 43 minutes and Irving, Waiters and Love all played 38 minutes. Overall, the Cavs' starters played a league high 79 percent of the game's possible minutes.
This somewhat continued into Friday's win in Chicago. James, Irving and Love are all averaging about 40 minutes a game, with LeBron leading the way at 42.5 per game. Waiters is a 32 minutes a game with Thompson and Varejao coming in at 28 minutes a game. Marion and Miller are averaging 12.5 and 7.5 minutes per game, respectively.
The Cavs' rotation should become clearer game by game. We should expect both Marion and Miller to see increased floor time, as they were signed this summer to be big parts of the Cavs' rotation. And while we are still weeks away from being able to properly evaluate the Cavs' best five-man lineups and Blatt's rotation management, it is worth noting what Blatt is doing now. Like the team, he is going to have growing pains and it will show early with who he puts on the floor.
Fear The Sword's Fearless Prediction
Again, this is a very tough matchup for the Cavs - especially at this point in the season. A year ago, Portland's offense had an offensive rating of 111.5, which was second in the league behind the Los Angeles Clippers. At this point, with all the pieces coming together, I think the Cavs will struggle to slow down Portland's offense and ultimately lose by a final score of 102-99.
And then everyone will needlessly panic because the Cavs are a terrible basketball team.