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Takeaways from the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 114-108 loss to the Orlando Magic

Evan Mobley returns as the preseason ends.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Orlando Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ preseason is over. With a 114-108 road loss to the Orlando Magic on Friday, the Cavs finish the preseason at 1-3. Most importantly, Evan Mobley returned and make his debut. In 16 minutes, Mobley had 8 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists as the Cavs’ starting center as Jarrett Allen rested in the preseason. Along with Allen, Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell sat this one out.

Welcome back, Evan Mobley

This was very clearly a warm-up game for Mobley. Some of that was personnel — he’ll likely have easier moments on offense when Garland and Mitchell are playing. But he looked like someone coming off of an ankle injury and working to get into game speed rhythm.

What was clear, though, was that Mobley is still very much Mobley. As a five, he was able to cover tons of space and east up passing lanes and shots at the rim against an Orlando team that played more open. On offense, had nice moments — particularly in diving to the rim and looking to play bull ball. This was not the case for most of last year.

Mobley’s growth in year two is, obviously, a massive part of the Cavs’ story this year. This was the first tease.

Isaac Okoro, again playing with confidence

It’s two preseason games, so this all has to be taken with a grain of salt. But it might be time for Isaac Okoro optimism.

Against the Magic, Okoro had 17 on 6-7 shooting from the field (including 1-1 from three) to go with 3 rebounds and an assist. More importantly, Okoro showed a willingness to do what the Cavs need him to do this year. He’s running the floor, filling the lane in transition and getting in position for shots at the rim. He’s cutting off ball — something he’s seemed hesitant to do in the past. He’s taking three-pointers when he’s open. And he’s still a solid defender, perhaps the Cavs’ best perimeter defender entering in the 2022-23 season.

Again: This is way too early to declare Okoro a changed player or declare that he’s having a year three leap. A charge chunk of regular season games need to happen before there’s enough to go on one way or the other. But Okoro is playing with confidence and playing the way Cleveland needs him to. That’s an improvement over last year.

Final preseason musings

A few quick takes on the preseason as a whole:

  • What a bummer for Dylan Windler. He came into camp saying he felt healthy and was ready to go. And then he picked up an injury in camp and didn’t play a minute in the preseason. He simply cannot catch a break.
  • Mamadi Diakite was clearly the most impressive training camp invitee and it wasn’t close. It’ll be interesting to see how the Cavs proceed with him.
  • This is going to take time for the Cavs to really gel. The core four — Garland, Mitchell, Allen and Mobley — didn’t play a single minute together in the preseason. This is a kind way of saying expect some mistakes early as they get everything on the same page.
  • A guess today at a 10-man rotation if J.B. Bickerstaff sticks to that number: Garland, Mitchell, Caris LeVert, Mobley and Allen as starters. Off the bench: Okoro, Osman, Kevin Love, Dean Wade, Robin Lopez.
  • That said: It would make sense to play Lopez based on the matchup. He’s going to struggle against quicker centers even if he knows how to be in the right spot and tries to alter shots without fouling. On those nights, it’d be fun to see more of Mobley at the five and give Lamar Stevens as another wing-ish player. Opening night against the Raptors is one of those matchups.

Up next: The real thing is next. The Cavs open the 2022-23 regular season in Toronto next Wednesday against the Raptors. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m.