A five-day break is a very rare occurrence in the NBA schedule, but that’s exactly what the Cleveland Cavaliers have had since their 104-81 stomping of the Detroit Pistons. The Cavs have played a league-low 12 games to date, while teams like the Indiana Pacers and Utah Jazz have played 15. One of the teams in that group that’s played significantly more is the Blazers, who will have played a league-high 16 after tonight’s contest with the New York Knicks. The Cavs will meet up with the Blazers on Wednesday night. Portland will be on their fifth straight road game, and this will be their ninth road match in 13 games. So while Portland may prove feisty on a normal night, this should be a winnable matchup for the Cavs.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (10-2) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (8-7)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Quicken Loans Arena - Cleveland, Ohio
TV Information: Fox Sports Ohio
The Portland Trail Blazers are a hard team to peg down so far this year. They came into the season with the expectation of being a playoff team, although there were many (myself included) who thought that their surprise second round appearance last year was a bit flukey. So far, they’ve been a mixed bag, looking like last year’s team at times, and then looking completely out of sorts at others, especially on defense. C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard have once again been outstanding, but the rest of the team has lacked. Allen Crabbe and Mo Harkless have significant warts, Mason Plumlee hasn’t been very good, and Evan Turner has been very Evan Turner. This team can still jump out and surprise you, like they did in a 100-94 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, or they can struggle against bad teams, as they have twice against Phoenix.
For the Cavs, the game begins and ends with perimeter defense. If they can corral Lillard and McCollum consistently, Portland is going to have some significant issues scoring. I’d expect Iman Shumpert to get a bulk of the time against the lead ball-handler, with Kyrie Irving defending off-ball, so there’s a good chance that they’ll each spend time on both players. We could also see some of LeBron guarding McCollum, or a Kyrie/Shump/J.R. trio to allow Kyrie to hide on Harkless.
However the Cavs decide to defend that backcourt, the Blazers are going to have just as many issues defending the Cavs. Portland’s defense allows the fourth-most three-point attempts per game and the second-most free throw attempts, indicative of a defense that is very prone to giving up penetration and open looks off of that penetration. Given that the Cavs’ entire offense is predicated on that type of action, that seems bad for what will be a tired Portland team.
The X-Factor should be Kevin Love. Love’s been great this season, posting 20/11 per game and finding a lot of success against teams that lack bigs that can handle his combination of shooting touch and rugged rebounding. Portland is one of those teams. They have a myriad of interesting bigs to throw at Love and Tristan Thompson, but none is a really ideal matchup. Plumlee is at a rebounding disadvantage; Ed Davis can go to war inside, but he’s not mobile enough to deal with Love on the perimeter; Noah Vonleh is mobile enough, but lacks the requisite physicality; and Meyers Leonard is not a defensive threat. Love should be able to have success in any matchup tonight, and that will be nice, especially if Kyrie has a bad defensive game and they need to shift focus to get Shump and Smith on the floor together.
Fear the Sword’s Fearless Prediction: This will likely be a high-scoring affair, but Portland’s on their last legs of an East road trip coming off a back-to-back in New York. Unless Lillard goes nuts, I can’t see the Blazers keeping up with what the Cavs will do to them defensively, especially without Al-Farouq Aminu to throw at LeBron. This should be a relatively easy 110-96 win for Cleveland.