The last time the Cleveland Cavaliers made it to the playoffs prior to the LeBron James era, Evan Mobley wasn’t even on this Earth yet. Fast forward to today, the team finds itself in unfamiliar territory, thinking more about the present than the future.
No trade machine proposals. Zero draft conversations. Yes, we’re talking postseason. This wasn’t a remote possibility before the season started, but a number of upsets and competitive games against legitimate contenders got the Cavs dreaming big.
As amusing as the team’s start has been, one should be reminded that this is Cleveland, so there’s always a familiar mix of nice things and land mines across the landscape.
Out of the Cavs’ top five players in minutes played, Lauri Markkanen is the oldest at 24 years old. Yet they’ve given vastly-experienced teams like the Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns, and Brooklyn Nets a run for their money despite missing multiple starters during their matchups.
They share the ball and defend as if their lives are on the line. It’s an identity that makes head coach J.B. Bickerstaff beam with pride, seeing the Cavs find ways to win. As of writing, they’re sixth in contested shots per game. They rank second in opponents’ points per game. They own the fourth-best defensive rating in the entire NBA. The Cavs also average the 10th-most assists per game thus far.
What’s not to like?
The Cavs’ leading scorer at the time in Collin Sexton suffered a torn meniscus that deemed him out for the entire regular season. Jarrett Allen missed three games due to a non-COVID-19 illness. Evan Mobley was out for four games with a sprained elbow. Lauri Markkanen and Kevin Love missed nine and eight games, respectively, after being placed under the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Lamar Stevens was out for six games. Isaac Okoro missed seven games early on.
It was a laundry list of health concerns that forced coach Bickerstaff to get extra creative with his lineups. When everyone is healthy, the Cavs deploy an eight-man rotation with a trickle of Stevens or Dylan Windler, depending on the matchup. It’s not a deep lineup, and the team can’t afford another string of bad luck.
Let’s talk about respect, shall we? All things considered, the Cavs have been impressive. They have gained the respect of their opponents. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said when it comes to the officials. Cleveland was terribly struck by this when they went up against the Brooklyn Nets for the second time. It was also evident in their game against the Phoenix Suns at home.
J.B. Bickerstaff went as far as calling out the officials. The Cavs coach felt like his wards’ efforts and competitiveness have gone for naught in the eyes of the referees. It’s very unfortunate, but the onus is on the coaching staff and veterans to prevent the team’s young studs from being distracted by this atrocity.
After 21 games, the Cavs have the sixth-most brutal schedule in the NBA, per powerrankingsguru.com. Darius Garland is looking more like a franchise point guard. Ricky Rubio has been in Team Spain mode since arriving in Cleveland. Jarrett Allen is steady as a rock. Lauri Markkanen is finally hitting his stride. Evan Mobley is improving at an astounding pace.
Safe to say that the Cavs haven’t peaked yet. They’re going to be better as the season progresses. Barring any injury to their main cogs, a playoff ticket is very much in reach for the Wine and Gold.
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