In an 82 game season, it’s important not to get too worked up about an individual performance, good or bad. But this early in the season, we’re still really in the dark about just what kind of team the Cavs have. I worried coming into the year that with a rookie head coach, a rookie point guard, unpredictable young prospects, and a host of expiring contracts things could go off the rail pretty quickly.
Through three games, that hasn’t happened. The Cavs have played three teams that are likely to be in the playoffs come April, and are 1-2. They’ve been competitive in all three games. The Chicago Bulls visit on Wednesday night, and while no one would say the Bulls are good (they’re lottery hopefuls like the Cavs, although some thought they could make the playoffs) ESPN’s matchup predictor actually thinks the Cavs are favorites to win.
Maybe that’s right. They’ve looked pretty good. The Bulls just lost to the horrific Knicks. But it’s also early in the season. Maybe the Cavs regress a little bit. Maybe we see a little more from Darius Garland. Maybe the Cavs are just a normal rebuilding team instead of an aggressively bad one with Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson healthy.
Put another way, I’m interested to see how the Cavs look against one of their peers.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (1-2) vs. Chicago Bulls (1-3)
When: 8 p.m. EST
Where: Rocket Mortgage Field House — Cleveland, Ohio
Where to watch: Fox Sports Ohio, NBA League Pass
The Bulls lost a game on Monday night after leading it 33-15 after the first quarter. They have some functional pieces. Zach LaVine is a high-flyer and still developing. Lauri Markkanen feels like a lock to go off on the Cavs, and Tomas Satoransky was one of those players that Wizards fans were really disappointed to see leave. Otto Porter Jr. has taken steps forward in his career, but only scored seven points in that Knicks loss. Seems likely he’ll be looking to bounce back. Wendell Carter Jr. was terrific offensively, but he’ll have a tough matchup with Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love.
For the Cavs, we’ll look to see if they can consistently find some sort of offensive flow and identity. For long stretches of game play they’ve looked to Kevin Love and even Tristan Thompson to create offense on their own, and it’s probably not a recipe for long term success. On the other hand, Garland, Sexton and Jordan Clarkson are all capable of navigating screens and getting by their man. We’ve seen Garland link up with Thompson for lobs, but everyone could be better at setting up Love off the pick and pop action. The best case scenario would involve a big step forward for Garland, with a usage rate closer to 30% than 15%. He should be handling the ball more, shooting the ball more, and initiating the offense more. It’s nice to see Collin Sexton take moderate steps forward, but we’re still in the getting to know you stage for Garland.
Fear the Sword’s Fearless Prediction
I still think beating the Bulls, even at home, would be a little bit of an upset. I’m not ready to count on the Cavs young guards to sustain the team over four quarters just yet on a night to night basis. We might be in for a reality check.
All that said, I’ll predict the opposite: a nice 106-99 Cavs win and a small recalibration of where the Cavs might stand in the overall scheme; something closer to 32 or 33 wins than 20. We’ll see.