(Portland, OR) — The fireworks are over, the dust has settled and the Cleveland Cavaliers can finally focus on basketball.
After a shaky start in LeBron James’ return to northeast Ohio against the New York Knicks on opening day, James and the rest of the Cavs bounced back in overtime against the Chicago Bulls on Halloween night.
The Portland Trail Blazers have also endured a disappointing start to the NBA season, dropping back-to-back games against the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors.
Portland swept the season series from the Cavs last year, going 2-0, with Damian Lillard averaging 32.0 points and 7.5 assists in those contests.
Following an uncharacteristic eight turnover outing in the opener at home, LeBron understood the importance of ball security on the ensuing road trip. The Cavs had a dismal 19 turnovers in their first game. They had just nine in their second.
“You know, I believe I started the whole turnover trend in game one,” James told reporters following a team practice Monday afternoon. “We understand that the more possessions we get, it gives us a better chance to score, and a better chance for us to set our defense on the other end.”
The Blazers have suffered back-to-back loses, most recently falling short to the undefeated Golden State Warriors at home. Coming off a career year in which he posted career highs in both points (23.2) and rebounds (11.2), Blazers’ all-star LaMarcus Aldridge has been hot so far putting up 25 points per game.
A subplot in this cross-conference matchup is the fourth faceoff between two of the game’s youngest super guards. Lillard and Kyrie Irving are widely considered the best point guards of their drafts, with the youngsters going first (Irving to the Cavs in 2011) and sixth (Lillard to the Blazers in 2012) overall in their respective drafts.
Another intriguing matchup will be the battle at the power forward position. Aldridge and Kevin Love are used to facing off against each other back when Love was on the Minnesota Timberwolves. In 15 career matchups with Aldridge, Love averages 18.4 points per game, yet is just 3-12.
After opening the season at home in grand fashion last Thursday, the start of this Cavaliers’ schedule has left little room for error. Five of the Cavs first seven games are on the road, and Head Coach David Blatt understands that finding consistency now will greatly benefit the Cavs down the stretch.
“The first day was a tough night for us,” mentioned Blatt to reporters. “And we didn’t feel good about it obviously. The only thing we coulda done was respond in a big way, which we did, and ultimately got a victory. That made it a lot sweeter.”
Part of the Cavs turnaround success in Chicago was the increased production from the Cavaliers’ bench. In their first game, the Cleveland non-starters managed a putrid 12 points and four rebounds. The following night, against Chicago, the Cavs’ reserves went for 20 points and 18 boards.
While backup point-guard Matthew Dellavedova didn’t score a single point in the Bulls game, he enjoyed a plus/minus of +15, the highest on the team. His scrappy defense has earned him, to this point, some extra minutes that were originally believed to have belonged to veterans Mike Miller and Shawn Marion.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of LeBron’s return has been backup forward Tristan Thompson. After a pedestrian six points and two rebounds in the Cavs season opener, TT fired back with 16 points and 13 rebounds (12 offensive rebounds) against the Bulls. With all the attention that James attracts towards the rim, it allows Thompson to focus on crashing the glass and grabbing rebounds. That type of all-around production coming from a reserve player could prove enormous for a Cavs team that currently is dead last in points off the bench (16.0).
The Cavaliers will look to go 2-1 against a very solid, yet underperforming, Blazers team Tuesday night. With the festivities of LeBron’s homecoming now in the past, coach Blatt understands what it takes to get his team focused on winning games.
“We wanna win games,” Blatt replied with a smirk after being asked what the Cavs need to do differently going forward. “We wanna get out there and be as competitive and as sharp as we can be. Cause we got good teams to play and tough teams to beat.”
The Cavs will have a quick turnaround after their contest with Portland on Tuesday, as immediately following that game they’ll travel to Utah to take on the Jazz Wednesday night.