The Cleveland Cavaliers, along with the rest of the NBA, are in their final stretch. The Cavs have just 12 games left to play, and are gearing up for a possibly deep playoff run. They currently sit in the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, a marked improvement from their play-in bounce out last year. While further movement is fairly unlikely, they can still make some noise in the postseason.
There’s not much different here versus the midseason report. Donovan Mitchell is still great, although not as otherworldly efficient he was to start the season. He’s still having a career year though, and throughout his career he’s only gotten better in the playoffs. Darius Garland is also having a career year, Jarrett Allen is steady as always, and Evan Mobley is having a great sophomore season even if his raw numbers haven’t increased too much. As for the last spot, Isaac Okoro has locked that down, for better or for worse. He’s had a good winter, but he’s beginning to slip back down to where he’s been historically. His average three point shooter on totally wide open corner threes are missing, which isn’t ideal.
Coach J.B. Bickerstaff has already started shortening the rotation down to around eight or nine guys in the past few games. Caris LeVert is the only one that is getting consistent minutes each and every game, and with his all-around game fits the sixth man role well. However, his inconsistencies, especially on the scoring end, is emblematic of an overall bench weakness. Lamar Stevens has come on strong again as of late and has been playing again, and really does seem more or less an extra Okoro which is a good and bad thing.
Ricky Rubio and Cedi Osman are the other two guys getting minutes. Although they have a few DNPs and a few games under ten minutes over the last week, Osman, again, struggles with consistency. For an off the bench scorer, Osman isn’t scoring enough in his few minutes to justify more. Sometimes he does, which is great, but it’s not something that can be relied on. Rubio is a steady hand, but he’s had his role as the off bench ball-handler supplanted by LeVert, and doesn’t offer too much else scoring wise than any other Cavalier. Depth is a weakness for the Cavaliers, who lack scoring and especially three-point shooting off the bench. If Dean Wade can return to form that would help immensely, but his shot isn’t falling right now, and he doesn’t offer much besides that.
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The remaining schedule for the Cavalier’s is pretty easy, and importantly is much easier than that of the Philadelphia 76ers who they are fighting for the third seed. Despite that though, the chances of them catching the Sixers is slim. The Sixers have been playing excellent basketball recently, the Cavs are 3.5 games behind and will be missing Jarrett Allen for at least some time.
The Cavaliers crucially have a game against the Sixers left (at home), and also play twice away against the fifth seeded Brooklyn Nets, both away. Beyond that, they play only two other games against play-in teams or better, away against the Atlanta Hawks and the New York Knicks at home. Compare that to the Sixers, who have a brutal western road trip ahead of them and play 12 play-in or better teams in their remaining 15 games. That means there’s still a chance, and would it would be amazing for both first and potentially second round to nab the third spot.
While the fifth seed currently belongs to the Brooklyn Nets, the much more likely candidate for the Cavaliers to face round one is the New York Knicks, assuming they don’t overtake the Sixers. The Knicks have been one of the best teams in the league since the All-Star break and are very dangerous. The Knicks currently lead the season series 2-1, but the Cavs have the final matchup at home on March 31st, and could get some great momentum if they win that one. Alternatively, if the Nets do hang on, or if they fall to the sixth and the Cavs get the third seed, that will be a much easier matchup.
The Cavaliers did lose their only meeting so far, but they still had Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving back then, and it was one of the few games those two played together this season. Round two against the Milwaukee Bucks or Boston Celtics will be much harder. It’s worth noting the Cavaliers are up 3-1 on Boston and 2-2 against Milwaukee this season, including wins in the last two matchups. The Cavaliers have a fighting chance against anyone, but they also could be a first round bounce against a good Knicks team. That March 31st game should reveal much more, as long as both teams are full strength to fight it out.
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