Cavaliers-Trail Blazers Preview
The Cleveland Cavaliers are familiar with how tough things can be while a star point guard is sidelined, though having LeBron James can certainly make up for a lot of issues.
The Portland Trail Blazers don't have that luxury as they continue to wait for their floor general to return.
Neither Kyrie Irving nor Damian Lillard will be in the lineup Saturday night as the visiting Cavaliers try to send the Blazers to a sixth consecutive defeat.
Cleveland (19-8) ran out to the Eastern Conference's top record without Irving, who missed the first 24 games after suffering a broken kneecap in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
James, scoring a team-high 26.3 per game, and Kevin Love, averaging 17.2 points and a team-high 10.9 rebounds, have had a lot to do with the Cavs' early success.
The club hopes the three-time All-Star's return can have a major impact on its long-term performance, but Irving won't play in Saturday's second end of a back-to-back as part of a plan to ease him back from his injury.
Irving worked through some rust with 13 points on 4-of-15 shooting in Friday's 89-83 loss at Golden State that ended a six-game winning streak, but Portland should be quite happy to avoid him. In his most recent matchup with the Blazers, Irving had a performance to remember with 55 points while sinking 11 of 19 from 3-point range in a 99-94 home win Jan. 28.
Cleveland was nowhere near that accurate in the Finals rematch with the Warriors, shooting a season-low 31.6 percent - including 5 for 30 (16.7) from 3-point range.
''Offensively, we just didn't have it," James said. "No one had it."
The Cavs had dropped a season-high three in a row before a 105-100 home win over Portland on Dec. 8. James led the way with 33 points and 10 rebounds and Love added 18 to help put Cleveland in position for its first season sweep in this series since 2009-10.
Lillard kept the Blazers in that contest with 33 points and made 4 of 9 from 3-point range, while C.J. McCollum contributed 24 points and hit 4 of 8 from beyond the arc. McCollum, enjoying a breakout season at 20.1 points per game, scored 19 on 8-of-21 shooting in Wednesday's 115-89 loss at New Orleans in his return from a one-game absence due to an ankle injury.
Lillard, who hadn't missed a game over three-plus seasons, has sat out the last two of the team's five straight losses with plantar fasciitis and won't play Saturday.
''I know it won't be long,'' Lillard said earlier this week. ''But I've just got to rest it."
Portland (11-20) needs a boost from somewhere after averaging just 95.8 points on 41.3 percent shooting during its second-worst slide of the season. The Blazers, 6-6 at home, are also having their share of trouble defensively, allowing 108.3 points per game over their last seven.
Cleveland has won the last two meetings, but has dropped four of the past five at Portland.