Kyrie Irving has big shoes to fill as the Cavs number one overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, shoes belonging to LeBron James. Photo courtesy of ESPN.

Game 8 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Blazers: 5-2 (2nd Northwest Division)

Cavaliers: 4-3 (3rd Central Division)

Game Details: Rose Garden Arena, Portland, OR. 6:00 PM. TV: CSNW. Radio: KXTG (750 AM)

Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Raymond Felton (#5, 6’1”, North Carolina), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5″, Marquette), SF Gerald Wallace (#3, 6’7″, Alabama), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6’11″, Texas), C Marcus Camby (#23, 6’11″, UMass)

Projected Cleveland Starting Lineup: PG Kyrie Irving (#2, 6’3”, Duke), SG Anthony Parker (#18, 6’6”, Bradley), SF Omri Casspi (#36, 6’9”, Yavne, Israel), PF Antwan Jamison (#4, 6’9”, North Carolina), C Anderson Varejao (#17, 6’11”, Santa Teresa, Brazil)

How’s everybody doing? Have we all recovered from Friday’s Debacle in the Desert? Let’s hope the Blazers have. There’s almost nothing better than having a team like the Cavaliers come to town in an effort to get over the worst game of this burgeoning season. And there will be nothing worse than not getting over that loss, coming out flat for the second game in a row, and adding a loss to the another sub-par team to the record.

I’m not saying that I think that will happen. What I’m saying is because Portland will likely spend the bulk of this season at or around the top of the Western Conference, team’s are going to prepare like hell to knock them off. That’s my guess as to what went wrong in Phoenix. The Suns came out ready to play their best game against one of the best teams in the league. The Blazers didn’t, and the lost. The Cavs are going to be doing the same thing. Portland has to come out ready to play, and not hope their opponent will find a way to hand them the game. It’s the NBA; any team can beat any other team any day of the week.

So here’ my formula for a Portland win: Win the race to 100 points–preferably reach 100 without also giving up 100–and get Gerald Wallace involved on offense. The Blazers have lost twice in seven games, and those two losses have at the very least one major thing in common. In Los Angeles against the Clippers, Gerald Wallace didn’t score a single point, and his team fell 93-88. In Friday’s loss to Phoenix, Crash registered one free throw; Portland scored only 77 points. In all five Blazer wins, Gerald has scored at least 13 points, and Portland has gone over 100 each time. Coincidental? I don’t think so. One more Gerald Wallace factoid: In all five wins he has played at least 30 minutes, in the losses he has played less than 30 minutes. If you are questioning how important Wallace is the success of this team, here’s your answer: VERY.

Along with getting better play from Gerald, everybody has to work on knocking down shots. Friday looked a little like last season at times, when the Blazers couldn’t hit a shot if their collective life depended on it. Nicolas Batum and Jamal Crawford were the main culprits, shooting 4-of-13 and 3-of-14 respectively. The problem with Nic and Jamal falling flat in such a manner as that is that teams like Phoenix and Cleveland seriously lack for depth.

The Suns’ starting five, led by Steve Nash and Jared Dudley, were able to get out to a lead. Portland should have been able to make a big run when those guys were on the bench and guys like Ronnie Price, Markieff Morris, and Hakim Warrick were responsible for offense. That didn’t happen.

Cleveland doesn’t have the starting five Phoenix does. And their bench needs to be taken advantage of. Jamal Crawford hasn’t quite found his rhythm yet. It’s a catch-22 with Jamal because he needs to keep shooting to get his J to come alive, and until that happens he’s going to have some more nights where he ends up looking like an undisciplined chucker. Nicolas, on the other hand, has to start attacking the rim when his jumper isn’t falling. Attacking the rim leads to lay-ups, or better yet, free throws. Nic’s great from the stripe, plus it’s easy to get the jumper going when you get a couple of free looks from the line.

If you can remember all the way back to last season’s home match-up with Cleveland, you will recall that it was a bit of a joke. Portland led that game at one point 35-6. Last season the Cavs tied the record for most consecutive losses in the history of American professional sports by losing 26 times in a row. This team is not that team. They’ve added a couple of decent players, one in particular in the number one overall pick Kyrie Irving, and through seven games Cleveland is over .500 and in the seventh position in the Eastern Conference. But last season’s team was 4-3 after seven games before imploding/exploding in a historic fashion.

So here are a few things to look for:

  • Kyrie Irving: As the number one overall pick in the draft, Irving is yet another sacrificial lamb on the altar of “No Duke Player Has Ever Been Good In The NBA.” So far his numbers have been pretty good. He’s averaging 14 points per contest, nearly five and a half assists, and 26 minutes played. The minutes played is important. It’s an indication that Cleveland is a team being basically run by a rookie. Portland’s back-court has a lot of years on this kid, and should be able to handle him. That being said, he’s probably going to be fun to watch. If it turns into a blowout, we might even get the chance to see the battle of Duke PGs if Nolan Smith gets some minutes.
  • How Portland responds to Friday: Former RCP writer Sean Highkin made a Twitter observation at the end of Friday’s game, saying that taking Portland off the title contenders list following their first no-show of the season was as foolish as putting them on that same list after their two definitive wins at Oklahoma City, and against the Lakers at the RG. Although I agree that this team shouldn’t be judged by Friday’s game, I do believe that this team can contend for a title–at least a Western Conference title. Hopefully these Blazers feel the same way, and respond to losing to a team that isn’t very good by coming out and laying waste to another team that isn’t very good.
  • Who steps up first: Portland is going to need to have guys come to play. The question is which guys do it, and when. I would love to see Gerald Wallace come out and set the tone, or LaMarcus Aldridge establish a low post game against guys that won’t be able to handle him. I will also take good bench games from Nicolas Batum or Jamal Crawford. If I were going to bet on this game, I would put my money on LA. Cleveland is thin up front. He should be able to handle Varejao or Jamison both inside and outside.

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Twitter: @mikeacker | @ripcityproject

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Tags: Blazers Cavaliers Gerald Wallave Jamal Crawford Kyrie Irving LaMarcus Aldridge Nicolas Batum Regular Season

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