It’s time to hop on the bandwagon
It is surely entirely too early in the NBA season to be making bold statements. But that is exactly what we are here to do. It is our job to react to what we are watching and what we are watching is special. By all means, the league is taking notice of the young Cleveland Cavaliers. At this moment they are no longer the young aspiring plucky underdog, instead, they are now viewed as a serious threat in the Eastern Conference.
As a matter of fact, the Cavs now sit at 6-1, riding a six-game winning streak, that now has the squad sitting 2nd in the East behind the Bucks. Two of those wins have come against the reigning Eastern Conference Champs in the Boston Celtics. Both of these games had a playoff atmosphere and both went into overtime with the Cavaliers coming out on top.
It’s worthy noting that most of this has been done without their All-Star point guard Darius Garland. Darius suffered an eyelid laceration in the early second quarter of their opening game against the Raptors. Though the Cavs lost their star guard and ultimately the game, the Cavs managed to win the next five games. Last night, Garland returned to the lineup and he did not disappoint. Recording 29 points, 12 assists and three steals went a long way into lifting the team and setting the tone for the team.
As usual since Garland’s injury, the team has been able to rely on superstar Donovan Mitchell. To say that he has put to rest any concerns about fit on this team is an extreme understatement. Donovan has been a go-to for big buckets whenever they have been needed and last night was no different. Mitchell had huge moments in the closing moments of the 4th quarter and overtime.
The star guard has always been known for his tantalizing scoring ability, but what has separated him from his days in Utah are the things that he has improved since being traded to Cleveland. Mitchell has shown incredible unselfishness, demonstrating great court vision, IQ and has done a great job of passing and setting his teammates up to score.
Additionally, Donovan has rebounded very well, typically in crucial moments, as well as an extreme commitment to the defensive end that we have not seen before. The truth is that this Cavs roster has eased the burden on Mitchell on both sides of the ball to allow him to be a more complete player than he has previously been able to showcase.
The numbers paint what is truly special
Through these first seven games, the Cavs have crushed just about every major stat. With Garland now back, the offensive numbers should only improve, but the Cavs have been great, even in his absence. The Cavs are 7th in offensive rating, 3rd in net rating, 6th in three-pointers made while being the 2nd most efficient three-point shooting team.
As was the case a year ago, the real identity of this team still resides with the defense. Headlined by Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen who force defenders to take extremely difficult shots, eat passing lanes, force kick-outs and many mistakes. Even if the blocks aren’t coming at as high of a rate as they were a year ago, they constantly impact defense in ways that don’t show up on the stat sheet. Another factor is that teams are now well aware of what those two can do and don’t attempt to challenge them the way that they did a year ago.
Supporting The Towers
Along with the towers of the backcourt, Bickerstaff has installed a defensive mindset in each player and it shows. Dean Wade has been a jack-of-all-trades standout for this team. He has great advanced numbers on the defensive end and it was apparent on the game-sealing drive with Dean Wade defending Jaylen Brown as Brown attempted to hit the game-winner in overtime last night.
Along with Wade, Mitchell has shown an extreme commitment to the defensive end as well as Caris LeVert who has often been tasked with guarding elite wings. Despite his size, Garland has consistently put himself in the right spot on defense and made big plays, his three steals against the Celtics were enormous. Even players who had previously struggled defensively such as Cedi Osman, have shown commitment to being good defenders.
The Cavs are 3rd in defensive rating, 3rd in fewest opponent three-point attempts and 10th in fewest field goal attempts at the rim. It doesn’t matter where teams try to get their shots, the Cavs will put themselves in the right spot and make it difficult. Add that to an offense that is now top 10 in the NBA and they are going to be difficult for any team to overcome.
The Cavs now begin a five-game road trip, starting in Detroit against the Pistons. This could easily be a trap game for the Cavaliers. Detroit has been a very difficult team despite their record. While Detroit is rebuilding, they are very well-coached, play very hard and have elite blooming talent on their roster. If the Cavaliers can come out with the same intensity that they did against Boston, they will be fine, but anything less may not be enough against Cade Cunningham and the rest of his squad.
This is the best time to be a fan, as Garland said in the preseason, “The vibes are immaculate.” A team that we have watched grow over the last four years are now blooming. And now the young squad appears to be one of the best teams in the entire organization. If you haven’t been following them this entire time, no worries. Now is the perfect time to join in on the fun and enjoy this incredible team.