CLEVELAND — Tristan Thompson has never been viewed as an elite shot blocker, but that could be changing.
As the Cavs prepare to host the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, Thompson is averaging 1.8 blocks per game — more than double his career mark of 0.8.
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He ranks in the top 10 in blocked shots after finishing tied for 72nd last season. He enters Wednesday with at least three blocks in four of the last eight games; he blocked at least three shots in four of the Cavs' 103 games last season.
“The last couple of years we just talked to him about being a better rim protector and being in the right spots,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “This year, he has come out and done it. Tristan has really found his way defensively. We know he's a great inbound defender, great pick-and-roll defender, great post defender. But now helping on the weakside, getting blocked shots and protecting the basket has been great for us.”
Thompson earned his five-year, $82 million contract prior to last season primarily for his defensive work. He may be improved this season as a shot blocker, but he still takes the most pride in his ability to switch onto smaller guards in pick-and-rolls. After chasing around Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith and LeBron James every day, Thompson is able to handle most other guards and wings.
“I hope they start giving some credit to guys that can guard guards,” Thompson said. “I know that's not a stat, but that should definitely count. Hopefully I get some credit and make sure you guys don't forget about me when it's time to put that name on the (All-Defensive) ballot.”
The Blazers, meanwhile, are still waiting for their center to get healthy. Ezeli rejoined the team Tuesday in New York after seeking a second opinion on his ailing left knee, but the team provided no real update. Ezeli has yet to appear in a game for the Blazers after receiving an injection in his knee in August that was supposed to keep him sidelined for six weeks.
Portland lost at New York, 107-103, Tuesday to fall to a middling 8-8. It has been a disappointing start to the season for a Blazers team that spent $250 million last summer to retain guards C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe and add free agent Evan Turner. As a result, Wednesday's game features the two top payrolls in the NBA.
The Cavs are embarking on a title defense with their $131 million, but the Blazers are off to a sluggish start despite the summer spending spree and $120 million payroll.
“I think we are a very average team right now and it shows in our record,” McCollum said. “The talent is there, but we are not executing well.”
James missed practice for the Cavs on Tuesday to give his deposition in former players union executive director Billy Hunter's wrongful termination lawsuit. James is the vice president of the players union. The deposition is not expected to impact his availability for Wednesday's game.