After a productive home stand in which the Cleveland Cavaliers were able to win a few basketball games, they get back on the road to face one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams. The Boston Celtics sit second in the East behind only the Milwaukee Bucks, and have slotted Kemba Walker into Kyrie Irving’s vacated position to find success. With Terry Rozier also out of town, their backcourt has stabilized. They’ll be missing Marcus Smart, but this is a good team. Time will tell if they make a win-now move to try and challenge Giannis and the Bucks, but that isn’t the Cavs concern.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (9-21) vs Boston Celtics (21-7)
When: 4:00 p.m. EST
Where: TD Garden — Boston, Massachusetts
TV: Fox Sports Ohio, NBA TV
The Cavs gamble on youth is paying off a little bit.
Just two weeks ago, we were lamenting that the highs of the season had too often involved Tristan Thompson instead of Darius Garland or Collin Sexton. That’s changed somewhat. Garland’s statistical profile had quietly been horrendous for the first couple months of the year - plenty of excuses and justifications for that, given his lack of competitive basketball over the previous calendar year — but they’ve moved out of the basement. Collin Sexton’s efficiency has ticked up a notch and is getting a little closer to average. And everyone is happy with what they’re seeing out of Kevin Porter Jr. Perhaps one day we’ll find out if Dylan Windler can contribute too once he’s healthy.
So while we are still unclear on whether or not there’s a star-level talent on the roster, we can feel better about the young players on the roster overall. The combined age of Sexton, Garland, and Porter Jr. is 58 years old, so they’ll be given time. With the exit of Jordan Clarkson, it’s possible they’ll each get more dribbles. It was clearly difficult for John Beilein to stagger Garland’s minutes with both Sexton and Clarkson, and that’s a problem solved. It won’t make the team better right now — Clarkson’s a clear NBA player on a team that doesn’t have a lot of them — but who cares?
As it stands today the Cavs have the fifth worst record in the league. As long as they land a pick in the top 10 and get Garland, Sexton, and Porter Jr. lots of minutes in as close to optimized roles as possible, the year is a success. Against Boston, we’ll hopefully start to see Garland more as a lead playmaker, deferring less to other dribble-happy teammates. In theory, newly-acquired Dante Exum could be a nice fit, providing size and requiring little usage. Garland’s shooting could potentially make up for the fact that Exum can’t do it. It’s a nice roll of the dice on a former promising prospect, and it gets the Cavs a bit more wiggle room under the luxury tax.
This has all been a bit meandering, but I think the excitement around the Cavs right now can be boiled down to the fact that they are beating or keeping pace with teams in their own tier, which is a testament to John Beilein getting the most out of what he has to work with, and some signs of life from young players the team wants to build with. Maybe the team will have some confidence and hang with a tough Boston team, but it seems unlikely.
Fear the Sword’s Fearless Prediction
Boston wins at home, 107-98.