The Cleveland Cavaliers have just 16 games until they accomplish a feat no Lake Erie team has managed this century. Barring an absolutely catastrophic collapse, the Cavs will play postseason basketball without rostering LeBron James.
It didn’t always look possible. After James’ first Cavs exit, Cleveland wandered the wilderness for years, missing on draft picks, and struggling to maintain relevance until the King returned.
And when James left for a second time, the Cavs once again appeared hapless. Darius Garland hadn’t made a leap. Collin Sexton’s fit next to Garland was questionable.
But suddenly Garland looked the part of a franchise floor general. Sexton was swapped for Donovan Mitchell. The Cavs pulled off a shrewd move for Jarrett Allen, an apparent cast-aside from the James Harden-Rockets trade (and, in hindsight, the Cavs look like the only real winners in the deal).
But none of it has translated to a postseason birth. Yet. As things stand, the Cavs are fourth in the East with an eye on April basketball.
“Making the playoffs is always something I’ve wanted to have, to be honest with you,” Garland said, per Cavs beat writer Evan Dammarell. “I just want to get there and make some noise and, hopefully, win a championship one day.
Though Cleveland is one of just five teams in the NBA with 40 wins, some are bearish on the purple and gold’s chances come playoff time.
Windhorst Doesn’t Think Cavs are a True Contender
Is Cleveland ready to hang with the Eastern Conference’s heavyweights? Depends on who you ask.
According to ESPN insider Brian Windhorst, the Cavs aren’t quite on “true contender” status yet.
“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 Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks. But against the Celtics, Cleveland is 2-1 on the season, playing Boston tight in the team’s lone loss.
Cavs’ Inexperience Working Against Them
While the Cavs appear headed for a potentially deep postseason run, there’s one thing certainly working against them.
There’s simply 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.
Donovan Mitchell, isn’t so concerned, however.
“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.”
And he has every reason for confidence. The Cavs are one of three teams (including the Sixers and Celtics) with a top-ten offense and defense. And traditionally those stats bode well for would-be contenders.
Last year’s Celtics boasted that accomplishment en route to a Finals appearance. And the 2020-21 Bucks also managed that feat en route to a Finals victory.