This last weekend of Cleveland sports felt more like 2016 than 2020. The Browns lost to the (1-13) Jets and the Cavaliers dismantled the Philadelphia 76ers with a final score of 118-94. The Cavaliers are off to their first 3-0 start since the 2016-2017 season and are one of five remaining unbeaten teams in the NBA.
The big question everyone is asking is how has head coach JB Bickerstaff started to turn this team from a projected bottom three team in the league to a team that looks like it could sneak into the playoffs as a seven or eight seed? The main answers so far are defense, assists and exceptional play from the backcourt.
The Cavs are second in defense based on DefRtg with a score of 100.3 and only the Brooklyn Nets have a higher score. They have achieved this high defensive rating because of their active hands and defensive rebounding. The Cavs rank first in the NBA with 12.5 steals per game and they also rank fourth in defensive rebounding, securing around 28 defensive rebounds per game. C Andre Drummond and PF Larry Nance Jr. are both averaging more than two steals per game and SG Collin Sexton is not too far behind, averaging 1.7 SPG.
The exceptional play does not stop on the defensive side of the ball.
The Cavs offense has been on fire through the first three games. The Cavaliers are fifth in points per game with an average of 122.3. These points have largely come off the spectacular ball movement the Cavs have been utilizing. They are first in the NBA in assists per game, averaging just over 31 APG. PG Darius Garland is the team leader in assists, averaging over eight per game. Garland has been able to find players like Collin Sexton, who has been glorious since the opener. Through three games, Sexton has averaged 27 points, which leads the team.
Collin Sexton has not been the only Cavalier to find his offensive rhythm early in the year. C Andre Drummond has started to look like his old self from Detroit and that is very dangerous for the rest of the NBA. Drummond is averaging 20 points and 14 rebounds per game, but the stats don’t do Drummond justice. He has clearly been one of the team leaders and when PF Kevin Love was injured early in the Cavs game vs Philly, Drummond filled the veteran leadership role perfectly.
Love will be out 3-4 weeks with a calf strain.
Another pleasant surprise for the Cavaliers is that G Cedi Osman has started to put up impressive numbers after a lackluster 2019-2020 campaign. Osman is averaging 15 points in just 22 minutes of play per game. If Osman can keep those types of numbers up, he can be an early candidate for NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year.
The undefeated Cavaliers will be put through some major tests in the next few games. After they play the Knicks on Tuesday (12/29), the Cavs first four games of the six-game trip that begins Thursday (12/31) are against the Pacers (3-0), Hawks (2-0) and Magic (3-0). This will be a tremendous chance to prove that the (3-0) start is not just a fluke and that the Cleveland Cavaliers are actually in the mix for a playoff spot.