For the first time in a long time, there is real buzz around the Portland Trail Blazers. Some say this surge in interest has been a long time coming, but I think we directly attribute this rise in interest to the addition of rookie Damien Lillard from mid-major Weber State. And while Portland also has exciting players in center LaMarcus Aldridge, Lillard has become the player that first comes to mind when you think of the Blazers. He is the early frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, ahead of players like the Hornet’s Anthony Davis, the Bobcats’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the Cavaliers’ own Dion Waiters. Lillard’s presence alone makes tonight’s game worth watching.
Opponent’s Blog: Rip City Project
Venue: Rose Garden Arena – Portland, Oregon
Tipoff: Wednesday, January 16 at 10 p.m.
Betting Line: Trail Blazers by -6
Where you can watch: Fox Sports Ohio
Where you can listen: WTAM (1100 AM), WFUN (970 AM)
For the Cavaliers to win this game, they will need to control the boards and contain Lillard as much as they can. In the previous matchup between these two teams, the game went to two overtimes, and the Cavaliers fell due to a game winning shot by Portland’s Nick Batum. Remember: Kyrie Irving was out with his finger injury the last time the teams matched up. That alone should give the Cavaliers a boost in this rematch.
The Cavaliers will need to hit the boards hard in his game if they hope to win, and they will also need to protect the paint well. Starters Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller will have their hands full with Aldridge and former Cavalier J.J. Hickson, who has really blossomed as a solid role player in Portland. Combined, the two Blazers are averaging 19.6 rebounds. In comparison, Thompson and Zeller average 14.2 combined rebounds.
Offensively, the Cavs will need Irving to preform better than he did in Sacramento. Shooting 6-of-19 from the field, Irving was a non-factor for a large portion of the game. Down the stretch, it was not even Irving keeping Cleveland within a few points – it was Waiters, who played the best game of his NBA career against the Kings off the bench. A performance like that one, especially when matched up with a scorer like Lillard, will not do the Cavaliers any favors if they hope to snap their current three game losing streak.
Portland is favored in this game, and rightfully so. They not only won this game last time, but they have a clear rebounding advantage inside and Lillard is likely to light up the Cavaliers on the scoreboard. Even if this game slows down, that rebounding advantage will give the Blazers a clear advantage no matter the pace of the game. If they can control the tempo and keep the rebounding edge, the Cavaliers could be in deep trouble. As we saw against the Kings, the Cavaliers sometime struggle keeping the paint controlled when facing a talented frontcourt that fights hard for rebounds.
But with Irving in this time around, the Cavaliers will be competitive in this game. If he can be productive, and CJ Miles/Dion Waiters can shoot well from the field, then this game is winnable. But without question, rebounds will decide this game – no matter how well Irving plays. And yes, I’m looking at you, Zeller.