The Cleveland Cavaliers finished off an impressive 5-1 Western Conference road trip that featured six games in nine nights. The basketball wasn’t always pretty, but it was enough to get the job done nearly every night.
Here’s what we learned from a solid week of basketball.
The Cavs remain a great road team.
This most recent road trip highlighted something that’s been true all season. The Cavs are one of the best road teams in the entire league. They are now 15-9 on the road which gives them the second most road wins, the sixth highest win percentage on the road (62.5%) and the fourth best road net rating (+4.6 per 100 possessions).
Their defense is the biggest reason they are successful on the road and were successful the last six games. They have the second-best road defensive rating on the season (105.4). Their defense went through lulls this week as they allowed a 30-point quarter to every team besides the Utah Jazz. However, it was elite in crunch time when they needed it most as they had a 95 net rating in the fourth quarter during this road trip.
Young teams generally struggle on the road. We saw that plenty last season as the Cavs finished with just nine road wins and had a league-worst -10.2 road net rating. This season has been entirely different thanks in large part to their defense. Defense travels and can carry you through rough shooting nights like we’ve seen this week.
The three-point shooting is becoming an issue.
The Cavs went through stretches last season where it felt like they refused to take any threes. They were 28th in three-point attempts per game (29.7) and last in percentage (33.6%).
The three-point shooting has returned to 2020-21 levels since Ricky Rubio’s injury. The Cavs were averaging 35.5 attempts (16th in the league) and were shooting 35.8% on threes (12th in the league) prior to Rubio’s injury. Since the Cavs are attempting just 29.5 threes per game (29th during that time frame) and are shooting a league-worst 31.9%.
A lack of primary and secondary ball handlers was the biggest reason for the lack of three-point shooting last season and it’s the biggest reason again now. Good outside shooting requires playmakers who can create openings and get the ball to those shooters on time and on target. The Cavs have one player in Darius Garland who can consistently do that which is the problem.
The Cavs aren’t where they are today because of their outside shooting, but not being able to generate outside looks decreases their margin for error considerably. Adding Rajon Rondo should theoretically open up more shooting for bench players like Kevin Love and Cedi Osman, but he hasn’t been able to be on the floor consistently enough to make any definitive judgment.
Either way, the Cavs need to find a way to generate more shooting. The easiest path to doing that, barring a trade of some kind, is bringing in an additional ball-handler who can attack defenses off the dribble and find open shooters.
Darius Garland continues to carry the Cavs offensively.
While the defense has been the Cavs calling card, Garland’s ability to lift the offense is what is allowing them to win these close games. The third-year guard put together a solid road trip where he averaged 19.5 points, 10.2 assists and 2.7 turnovers with a 51% effective field goal percentage. It should also be noted that 79.1% of his field goals this week came unassisted which shows that he is being forced to create his offense completely for himself and the rest of the team.
The recent on/off numbers paint a better picture of how much the Cavs need Garland. The Cavs outscored opponents by 7.4 points per 100 possessions with Garland on and were outscored by 4.2 points with him off during the last six games. The offensive rating is what took the biggest hit as the Cavs averaged 112.9 points per 100 possessions with him on while only 100 with him off.
Garland showed the ability to change the course of a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night. The Cavs fell behind by 18 in the third quarter when Garland decided to takeover. Garland scored 12 points on 4 of 4 shooting and dished out 3 assists in the final 5 minutes of the third quarter. The Cavs outscored Oklahoma City 22 to 11 during that time frame which put them in a position to steal the game in the fourth. Garland finished the second half of that game with 18 points on 7 of 10 shooting and 11 assists.
The Cavs are in desperate need of more playmakers and scorers on the perimeter if they want to have a chance to secure a top-six playoff spot and compete in a potential series. However, it’s encouraging to see that the Cavs' offense is able to tread water by relying almost exclusively on Garland’s ability to create for himself and others.