The Portland Trail Blazers continue their road trip against the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night.
To learn more about the opponent heading into tonight’s game, we spoke with Jackson Flickinger, who writes for our friends at Fear the Sword.
1. The Cavs started 8-1, then lost five in a row, and are now on a three-game win streak. What’s the reason behind their up-and-down season so far?
Late game execution and poor defense without Jarrett Allen were the biggest reason for the losing streak. Four of their six losses have come from blown fourth quarter leads. This includes three losses in a row to the Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento Kings, and Golden State Warriors. They have also blown leads of seven or more in the last minute before heading into overtime.
Allen missed the ensuing two games which resulted in losses to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks. Overall, the Cavs have an extraordinary defensive rating of 105.2 with Allen on the floor and a 116.2 without him. This is a team built around their defensive identity. As good as Evan Mobley is, he’s still best suited defensively as a four.
There are still questions about their late game execution, but their defensive identity when healthy and their all-star backcourt have been enough to lead them to victory most nights.
2. How important has Donovan Mitchell been for the Cavs and how does he change the team’s offense?
Mitchell has fit in well with this team. The Cavs were at their best last season when they were able to pair multiple ball handlers around their front line of Mobley and Allen. Ricky Rubio was a big part of their early success and they weren’t able to replace him after his injury even after trading for Caris LeVert.
Although Mitchell is a completely different player than Rubio, his ability to create for himself and others alongside Garland and the front court has had a similar but far greater impact on this team. Mitchell is averaging 29.8 points and 6 assists on .498/.410/.874 shooting splits.
This has completely transformed the offense. Cleveland has gone from the 19th ranked offense last season up to 6th. This is still a defense first team, but Mitchell’s presence alone and his fit with Garland have allowed the offense to catch up.
3. What’s one thing people should know about the Cavs that you cannot find in a box score?
The Cavs have made their biggest runs this season, known locally as Cavalanches, with hybrid bench lineups against opposing second units. This doesn’t jump out from the stats as the Cavs are 27th in bench scoring.
J.B. Bickerstaff has done a good job of staggering the guards and bigs so that two of Garland, Mitchell, Mobley, and Allen are on the floor as much as possible. Reserves like Kevin Love, Cedi Osman, and Isaac Okoro have been able to fill different rolls alongside the remaining starters which has led to success. As a result, many of the Cavs most successful lineups include one or more members of the second unit.
4. If the Cavs were to lose Wednesday, what would be the reason why?
As noted previously, the Cavs have played some of their best basketball with their reserves. Some of those players are dealing with injuries such as Dean Wade, Caris LeVert, and Kevin Love who didn’t look right on Monday coming back from a thumb injury. The Cavs have been able to make those injuries with good scoring from their starting backcourt and solid play from Lamar Stevens and Osman.
That lack of depth does leave a smaller margin for error. An off-night from Garland (who is having turnover problems recently) or Mitchell could leave this offense in a difficult place.
5. What’s your prediction for Wednesday?
I’ll play it safe and go with the Cavs. They’re playing good basketball right now. Also, cross conference road trips are tough. That’s especially true if you’re missing your star player.