The Portland Trail Blazers (28-9) will host the Cleveland Cavaliers (14-24) tonight at the Moda Center. The Blazers are coming off of a win against Boston (112-104) and a rare three day break. This is the second time Portland will face Cleveland in less than a month.
Last time the teams met, December 17th in Cleveland, Damian Lillard put on a show. He finished the game with 36 points including a long range 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Blazers a 119-116 victory. But since that last meeting, the Cavaliers have acquired Luol Deng from the Chicago Bulls in exchange for Andrew Bynum. Since coming over to Cleveland, Deng is averaging 16.3 points per game. This will be his fourth game as a Cavalier.
The Cavaliers are riding a 120-118 victory against the Lakers. The Cavs were on fire from deep, hitting 13-17 three-pointers on the night. In the three games Deng has played with the Cavaliers, he has upped their average points per game to 104.3. In contrast, in the previous four games without Deng, they were averaging a sub-par 80.8 points per game. The Trail Blazers will look to stop this newfound Cavaliers offense tonight as they try to implement the defense they have worked on in practice.
Portland Trail Blazers:
- No injuries to report. Nicolas Batum will continue to play with a fractured middle finger on his non-shooting hand.
- No injuries to report.
Keys To The Game
- Implementing The Defensive Game Plan. At practice on Monday, the Trail Blazers worked on getting off to a better start defensively and incorporating the zone. Nicolas Batum was asked after practice about what they hope to see on the defensive end. “Just focus…it’s not about X’s and O’s, it’s about who wants it more,” Batum said. It is refreshing to know that the Blazers recognize their weakness and are working on it. Damian Lillard said, “We’ve had great third quarters and at the end of the game where we have played great defense. But in the first quarter we come out slow and let teams get what they want.” Tonight, the Blazers must come out in the first quarter and establish the defensive game plan.
- Damian Lillard vs. Kyrie Irving. This match-up features two of the league’s best young point guards. The two players also represent the NBA’s last two Rookies of the Year, who are looking to soar into the elite level. What’s probably the most interesting statistic is that Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard are tied for 11th in scoring in the NBA (21.4) this season. Irving was an All-Star last year and Lillard is looking for his first All-Star trip. As noted, the last time these two point guards faced off, Lillard dropped 36 points. However, it was Kyrie Irving’s 25 points that brought the Cavaliers back into the game, including scoring nine straight points in the fourth quarter. Even LeBron James was impressed.
One of the best games this year so far if not the best. Cavs vs Blazers
— LeBron James (@KingJames) December 18, 2013
- Feed The All-Star. How have I gotten this far in an article about the Trail Blazers and not mentioned LaMarcus Aldridge? As good as Lillard was last time against the Cavaliers, the Trail Blazers must continue to run their offense through their All-Star. Aldridge contributed 26 points and 15 rebounds in the last match-up. I’m definitely not sold on Tristan Thompson’s ability to guard Aldridge. So, the Blazers must get LaMarcus the ball early and down on the block. Against Thompson, he will have a two inch height advantage and a couple of pounds. This will give him the option to stick with his usual jump shot or back him down into the paint.