For two straight seasons now, the Cleveland Cavaliers have posted spectacular defensive numbers. Last year, the Cavs owned the NBA‘s fifth-best defense; through three-quarters of this season, Cleveland’s defense trails only the Memphis Grizzlies for second.
Keep in mind the Cavaliers usually start a backcourt in Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland that stand at 6’1. Issac Okoro, Cleveland’s usual three guard, is 6’5.
Point being, undersized backcourts like that are supposed to get picked apart. But with anchors in Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen locking things down, Cleveland’s defensive ceiling is sky-high.
Just ask Caris LeVert, who put the rest of the league on notice with his bold proclamation after the Cavs trounced the Detroit Pistons Saturday.
“We pride ourselves on being the best defense in the NBA,” LeVert explained. “So especially teams like that we want to start early and don’t let up. It doesn’t really matter who we’re playing, we just want to hold our standards the whole time.
Entering Saturday’s division showdown, the Cavaliers had held 20 opponents to fewer than 100 points. After defeating the Pistons 114-90 on Saturday, that figure stood at 21.
Cavs Not Among Title Favorites, per Windhorst
Not only is Cleveland’s defense stellar, but the Cavs’ offensive efficiency sits at No. 9 this season. In fact, Cleveland is one of three teams (the Sixers and Celtics) that rank in the top-ten in both offense and defense.
But according to ESPN insider Brian Windhorst, Cleveland still isn’t part of the East’s upper echelon of true contenders.
“They’re not as good as the Celtics The Celtics would beat them in seven-game series unless there are injuries. The Bucks would beat them. The Sixers would probably beat them, although it might get a little more interesting there,” Windhorst said. “Although, Jarrett Allen has pretty much never had a good game against Joel Embiid, even when he was with the Nets. So I don’t like their chances. They’re not as good as those three teams. That’s just the reality of it.”
The Cavs have lost four of their last six, including losses to the Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks. But the Cavs are 2-1 versus Boston on the season and have split contests with Milwaukee 1-1, suggesting the team isn’t lightyears behind their conference rivals.
Mitchell Not Worried About Cavs’ Title Chances
Windhorst isn’t alone in his dim view of the Cavaliers.
In the East, the conference race appears to have crystalized around the Sixers, Bucks, and Celtics. Indeed, the Cavaliers are a distant fourth in odds to win the Eastern Conference, according to FanDuel.
The Cavaliers are very much aware that they are often on the outside looking in on conversations about the conference’s best.
“Obviously, it’s no secret that we lack the experience,” Mitchell said, per Chris Fedor of cleveland.com. “When people talk, we’re not in their top 3 or whatever it is, and that’s fine, but the biggest thing for us is we believe we can not just make the playoffs but make a deep run. It’s all a learning experience and about continuing to get better, so, when we get to the playoffs, whatever seed we are, we’re ready.”
There’s no way around Cleveland’s lack of experience. Outside of Mitchell, none of Cleveland’s starters have ever won a playoff series. For good measure, Allen is on an eight-game playoff losing streak.