Winners of three in last four, Cavs in line for another West toughie

The two teams last met in December, when Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard scored 36 points including the game-winner in overtime.

David Richard/David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Cavaliers (14-24) at Portland Trail Blazers (28-9)

Venue: Rose Garden, Portland, Ore.

TV: 10 p.m., FOX Sports Ohio (Cavaliers Live pre-game at 9:30)

Projected Starters

CLEVELAND: C Anderson Varejao; PF Tristan Thompson; SF Luol Deng; SG C.J. Miles; PG Kyrie Irving.

PORTLAND: C Robin Lopez; PF LaMarcus Aldridge; SF Nicolas Batum; SG Wesley Matthews; PG Damian Lillard.

Pregame Notes:

TRANSCRIPT: TALKIN’ CAVS
Join Sam Amico every Wednesday at noon to talk Cavaliers and all things NBA! If you missed this week’s chat, check out the transcript. READ MORE

— First things first: The Cavs have won three of four overall and two of three on their five-game Western swing. But, of course, that’s tough to remember — considering the lone loss came by 44 points, Sunday at Sacramento.

— So even when things start to look up with this team, well, you never really know what to expect. Nor did the Cavs exactly look like world-beaters against a terribly undermanned Lakers team. But there were in fact several positives, including winning a close game on the road. No matter who you play, in the NBA, that speaks volumes.

— OK, on to Wednesday. Everything is set up for the Cavs to lose. They exerted lots of energy to push through a close game Tuesday. Then they had to hop on a plane and settle in a new city. They’re also facing one the league’s best teams on the road.

— And what have the Blazers done since Saturday? You guessed it. Nothing, really. Unless you count practice and lots of relaxation.

— So the Cavs have every excuse to lose. We will know they’re a good team when they win anyway.

— You may remember the matchup in Cleveland, where Lillard scored 36 points and buried the game-winner in overtime in the Blazers’ 119-116 win. It’s not entirely Irving’s fault, but a lot of opposing point guards are putting up huge numbers against the Cavs. When that’s the case, something with the team defense is terribly awry.

— Lillard is the reigning Rookie of the Year and is even better this season. Every time he shoots, it looks like it’s going in. Meanwhile, Irving is every bit as good statistically as he was last year, but again, his game is lacking its normal flair. This isn’t something that’s lost on Irving. But if the team wins, his odds of happiness increase. (Sidenote: That’s not intended to imply Irving is unhappy. It is to imply winning makes people happier. As opposed to the effect of not winning.)

— Then there’s Aldridge. Thompson actually did a decent job defending him in Cleveland. But Aldridge is 6-foot-11, shoots from the outside and can post up anyone in the league. Trying to defend him can leave you with a feeling of hopelessness.

— The Cavs and their fans can learn a lot from the Blazers. At the end of last season, there was plenty of frustration in Portland. Things seemed to be falling apart. There were rumors that Aldridge wanted out. People said Terry Stotts wasn’t the right coach. Batum was at the center of trade rumors. But instead of panicking and giving in to the erratic whims of fans and media, and shaking up their core, the Blazers stayed the course. Look at them now.

— The Blazers are 17-5 in games decided by 10 points or less. Like the Cavs have yet to do regularly, the Blazers have figured out how to capture the close ones. That comes from chemistry and making only small changes to the roster.

— Speaking of roster movement, No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Bennett has said he’s open to playing for the Cavs’ D-League affiliate in Canton. "It’s something I’d think about for sure," Bennett told the Plain Dealer prior to Wednesday’s game. "It’s not a bad thing, especially going down there, hopefully playing a lot, going down there, building my confidence." The 6-8 forward did not play in Tuesday’s win over the Lakers.