The Cleveland Cavaliers play their final home preseason game tonight as they host the Atlanta Hawks.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Atlanta Hawks
Where: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse - Cleveland, OH
When: 7:00 PM EST
TV: NBA League Pass, Bally Sports Ohio, Bally Sports Southeast, Bally Sports+
Opposing blog: Peachtree Hoops
Expected Cavs starting lineup: Darius Garland / Donovan Mitchell / Caris LeVert / Dean Wade / Jarrett Allen
Cavs injury report: Kevin Love (OUT - Knee), Evan Mobley (OUT - Ankle), Dylan Windler (OUT - Ankle), Ricky Rubio (OUT - ACL)
Expected Hawks starting lineup: Trae Young / Aaron Holiday / De’Andre Hunter / John Collins / Clint Capela
Hawks injury report: Dejounte Murray (QUESTIONABLE - Back), Bogdan Bogdanovic (OUT - Knee), Frank Kaminsky (QUESTIONABLE - Knee)
Three things to watch
Caris LeVert further staking his claim
Heading into Monday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Cavaliers swingman Caris LeVert was riding a lot of positive momentum. LeVert continued this positivity streak, having another strong outing against the 76ers finishing with 13 points on 5-9 shooting along with 3 rebounds and 3 assists in roughly 25 minutes of action.
There were concerns about how LeVert would fit within the starting lineup where he would likely be the fifth banana. Instead, LeVert looked very comfortable without the ball in his hands, accentuating the more ball-dominant tandem of Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell.
Cleveland is looking to run more of a pick-and-roll heavy offense with Garland and Mitchell always on the floor, acting as the primary ball handler. It plays to the backcourt tandem’s strengths and also feeds into the Cavaliers having numerous talented big men to feed as screeners. LeVert has fit in nicely as an off-ball spacer and slasher within the starting group and, when his number is called, is able to get an easy bucket as the shot clock winds down.
LeVert has quieted some of the concerns heading into this season. He’s finally healthy and able to play to his strengths. Granted, he’s still learning a bit and shifting his playstyle to better fit what Cleveland needs from him now. But, for now, it’s working for LeVert.
Factor that in along with Isaac Okoro not really popping on offense, and it feels like the starting small forward spot is all but locked up for LeVert. If he has one more strong outing against the Hawks, don’t be shocked if he’s locked in as the starting small forward when the games finally count next week against the Toronto Raptors.
The last showing for the key rotation players?
Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff isn’t one to reveal his hand in regard to his starting lineups and in-game rotations. It’s typical showmanship that tons of NBA head coaches utilize. In their first preseason game against the 76ers, Bickerstaff played his starters and key rotation players in the first half only. In their second, Bickerstaff only played his starters and key rotation players through the first three quarters.
Will Bickerstaff treat this game like a dress rehearsal and play his key players the entire night? It would make sense if he did. No disrespect to the Orlando Magic, the Hawks and 76ers are better playoff-caliber tests for this squad to learn where they fit in the grand scheme of things. Also, preseason games carry no weight in the standings. So, naturally, the healthier the Cavaliers are heading into the regular season, the better.
With that said, this could be the last hurrah for Cleveland’s key players in the preseason. Friday’s game against the Magic could instead be a better chance for guys like Sharife Cooper or Mamandi Diakite to make a case to earn the fifteenth roster spot on the Cavaliers.
Figuring out the final roster spot
Speaking of players like Cooper or Diakate, the remainder of the preseason could make or break their future with the Cavaliers. In game 1 against Philadelphia, Cooper, Diakate and Nate Hinton got some serious burn in the final quarter for Cleveland. In game 2, only Diakate saw the floor.
With only two games to go, all of these guys, along with Jamorko Pickett (who hasn’t played yet), will have to make the most of their minutes on the floor. There’s a chance that any of them lock in a claim to the Cavaliers’ final roster spot. But, there’s also a realistic chance that none of them make the roster and end up with the Cleveland Charge, the Cavaliers’ G League affiliate. There will be more on the semantics of the final roster spot next week. But, for now, keep an eye on who gets the most burn in tonight’s game as well as Friday’s to maybe figure out what the Cavaliers are feeling.