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What we learned about the Cleveland Cavaliers: Jan. 3 - 9

The Cavs break one tradition in Portland but keep another in the Bay Area.

Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images

The Cleveland Cavaliers dropped two of their three games this week including a highly publicized game against the Golden State Warriors.

Here’s what we learned this week.

Ja Morant vs. Darius Garland is fun to watch.

The Grizzlies and Cavs have been two of the most exciting teams this season thanks in large part to their third-year point guards who were taken just three picks apart in the 2019 Draft. Morant came out of the gate as the clear best point guard in the draft class but Garland’s play this season shows that this could be an interesting debate going forward if he continues to improve as he has this season.

Morant’s team got the win Tuesday night thanks to his excellent play, and a conveniently missed traveling violation, down the stretch. He scored 10 of his 26 points in the final 5 minutes of play and sealed the victory with a steal and transition layup in the closing 30 seconds.

Garland couldn’t get his outside shot to fall, as he went 3-10 from distance, but was still able to contribute 27 points and 10 assists in the loss.

Morant and Garland should be in the all-star conversation for years to come and both have the potential to become the best point guard in the league if things break the right way. It’s a shame that we only get to see them face off a few times a season, but that just makes each matchup they have even more special. I’m already looking forward to their showdowns next season.

Rajon Rondo is helpful, but not a seamless fit.

The Cavs need ball handling and play making. Rondo is still very good at both even if the rest of his game has declined significantly.

We saw the instant impact he can make in his initial minutes against the Portland Trailblazers on Friday night. He contributed 6 points, 4 boards, 3 assists and a steal in his first seven-minute run. His production dipped after that as his last 9-minutes of action featured 0-5 shooting and no assists.

Rondo’s last nine minutes on Friday showed where some of his limitations with this team could come from as he isn’t a great off-ball player. Opposing defenses help off of him significantly since he isn’t known as being a reliable shooter. This can clog up the lanes significantly and is one of the biggest differences between him and Ricky Rubio.

Rubio’s biggest asset to the team was his ability to play with Garland. Rubio and Garland lineups outscored opponents by an absurd 16.1 points per 100 possessions. The success of that duo is one of the biggest reasons the Cavs have been as successful as they’ve been this season.

Swapping Rondo for Rubio in second unit lineup with Kevin Love and Cedi Osman might not be be that big of a drop off. Both players are capable of probing defenses and finding open shooters against bench lineups. There shouldn’t be a significant dip in production for those lineups in the end of the first and beginning of the second quarter.

However, I’m not sure if Rondo and Garland can even be a diet version of the Rubio and Garland duo due to Rondo’s deficiencies off-ball. Garland has shown that he can effectively play off-ball, but you don’t want to take the ball out of your best scorers hands in the fourth quarter.

Rondo was brought in as a Rubio replacement but it’s unfair to expect him to replicate Rubio’s production. The Cavs will be forced to ride out the Rondo experience until an eventual replacement is brought in. It’ll be interesting to see if Garland and the rest of the team can adjust to an imperfect match and vice versa.

Speaking of Garland: The Cavs need the best of him to win.

The Cavs had a chance to win Tuesday’s game against Memphis thanks in part to a strong three quarters from Garland. The third-year guard had 19 points on 3-9 shooting from deep and 7 assists. The fourth quarter didn’t go as smoothly as Garland registered 8 points on 2-9 shooting.

Friday night against the Trailblazers was a completely different story. Garland closed out the game by registering 8 points on 3 of 3 shooting in the final 5 minutes. He sealed the victory by stealing an inbound pass and turning it into a quick layup.

The pendulum swung the opposite direction again against the Warriors on Sunday night. Garland finished with probably his worst offensive performances of the season and the Cavs just barely broke the 80 point barrier.

This week continued a trend that we’ve seen most of the season. Garland is shooting 53.1% from the field and 47.1% from distance in wins while he’s shooting just 41.4% from the field and 30.0% from three in losses.

It’s not surprising that a team’s leading scorer shoots more efficiently when his team wins. This difference does however highlight how much the Cavs depend on Garland with the lack of perimeter scoring options.

This was an issue before Rubio went down but it has been highlighted even more in the last week. The Cavs frontline is good enough defensively to keep them in games, but they need a little bit of half court offense down the stretch to secure the victory. As currently situated, the Cavs are relying too heavily on Garland offensively.

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