Trail Blazers Vs. Cavaliers Preview
December 17th, 2013
By ELI KABERON
The Portland Trail Blazers' talented young point guard is playing really well.
The Cleveland Cavaliers' talented young point guard may be playing even better.
Damian Lillard leads the Trail Blazers into Cleveland against Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers on Tuesday night.
Irving was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 29.0 points and 6.3 assists while shooting 50.8 percent in three games last week. Irving also averaged 2.3 steals, shot 9 for 22 (40.9 percent) from 3-point range and made 14 of 15 free throws.
"He deserves it. He's put up some big numbers for us, and he was aggressive especially at the right times for us," coach Mike Brown said. "He can get a lot of accolades because he has the chance to be that good. He has special talents."
Squaring off with Irving will be Lillard, who is coming off a special performance of his own. Lillard sank a fadeaway jumper as time expired to give Portland (21-4) a 111-109 overtime victory at Detroit on Sunday.
"It felt good," said Lillard, who scored 23 points and handed out seven assists as Portland won its fourth straight. "I had a lot of shots that I let go that felt good that didn't fall. When that one went in, I was like 'thank you.' I'm happy the shot went in."
The point guards have faced off only once before. Irving had 31 points while Lillard was held to 13 on 3-of-9 shooting in Cleveland's 93-88 win at Portland on Jan. 16 that ended a four-game skid in the series.
However, this season's Portland team is much deeper and talented than last year's version. The Trail Blazers have the best record in the Western Conference thanks to an efficient, high-scoring offense. Portland averages 107.9 points and shoots 45.9 percent, both of which rank near the top of the NBA.
Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge does the work inside, averaging 23.5 points and 10.9 rebounds, while the team is also among the league leaders with a 41.2 shooting percentage from 3-point range.
Portland allows 100.6 points per game, but it held Detroit to 15 in the fourth quarter after allowing 33 in the third to fall behind by 11.
"I'm really impressed with what we can do defensively when we pick it up," center Robin Lopez said. "We haven't peaked, because we still wait until the motivation is there, but when we needed it, we stepped up."
The Cavaliers (9-14), who had a three-game win streak snapped with a 114-107 loss at Miami on Saturday, know they will have their hands full.
Outside of Irving, nobody on the roster scores more than 14.5 points per game, and the Cavaliers average 94.4 points. With so many young players, they see the Trail Blazers as a team they would like to one day become.
"If you look at their roster, they have veteran guys or guys in their prime. They have very few young guys they are looking to run or lead the ship," Brown said. "So they have a lot of veteran players who know how to play the game the right way on both ends of the floor."
Portland has won its first 10 games of a season against the Eastern Conference for the second time in franchise history, matching the mark from 1990-91.