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What we learned about the Cleveland Cavaliers: Jan. 31 - Feb. 6

The Cavs continue to keep pace with the top of the conference with reinforcements are on the way.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t always pretty, but the Cleveland Cavaliers won three of their four games this week despite not having the services of their All-Star point guard Darius Garland.

Here’s what we learned from another winning week.

Koby Altman is reaping the rewards of the 2019 trade deadline.

Rebuilds are difficult and can last seemingly forever if you don’t utilize your draft picks properly. The Cavs weren’t able to trade the two best players on the 2018 Finals team in order to jumpstart the rebuild with LeBron James bolting for the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency and a non-existent trade market for Kevin Love after he signed his extension.

Koby Altman and company had a head start on the rebuild with the Brooklyn Nets pick that was netted for Kyrie Irving the previous summer which turned into Collin Sexton. Besides that, the front office had an aging and somewhat misfit roster that needed to be turned into usable future assets.

The rebuild was kickstarted by in season trades which culminated in the Caris LeVert trade on Sunday afternoon.

The above chart shows the results (minus veteran contracts brought back primarily for salary reasons) of Altman’s in season trades since taking over as general manager. Taking on contracts and turning Kyle Korver, George Hill, Sam Dekker, Rodney Hood and Alec Burk into two firsts and five second round picks is the reason the Cavs were able to grab Jarrett Allen last deadline and LeVert now.

Altman and company have been aggressive every deadline since he’s taken over. Those aggressive deadlines and hitting on their lottery picks is the biggest reason the Cavs are currently a game out of the top spot in the East after tearing the team down to the studs three seasons ago. We’ll see if Altman has hit another homerun with this deadline deal shortly.

Brandon Goodwin has stepped up well.

This front office has also been winning around the margins recently. Brandon Goodwin joins Dean Wade and Lamar Stevens as undrafted players who have impacted winning at various points this season.

Goodwin kickstarted an offense that was stuck in neutral last Monday against the New Orleans Pelicans as he provided 12 fourth quarter points to lead the Cavs to victory. He finished that outing with a team high 21 points on 8-11 shooting. Goodwin followed that up with a solid 12 points, 9-assist and 5-rebound performance in a win over the Charlotte Hornets.

Being able to get winning minutes out of someone who started the season in another organization's G League affiliate is a testament to how well the front office and coaching staff have done this season. Every win is important for the Cavs considering how tight the standings are in the top of the East. Being able to steal a couple wins with Goodwin filling in before additional perimeter help arrives may make the difference in a couple spots in the standings at the end of the season.

Jarrett Allen took not making the All-Star team personally.

Allen has been arguably the second best center in the East on a team a game out of the top spot. That is usually enough to get you a spot on an all-star roster but apparently not this season.

Allen responded with probably his best game since joining the Cavaliers as he finished Friday’s contest with 29 points and a beefy 21 rebounds which included 11 on the offensive end. He played like a man possessed which made the difference down the stretch of a game that had no business being as close as it was.

The Cavs big man deserved to be an all-star and will most likely be one once injury replacements have been added to the team after his statement game on Friday night.

Kevin Love turned into Mr. 4th Quarter this week.

The Cavs needed a 4th quarter closer with Garland out of the lineup. Love has more than stepped up as he averaged 8 points on .526/.636/1.000 shooting splits this week in the fourth.

Love kept the Cavs in Monday’s game against New Orleans by hitting back-to-back turnaround fadeaways to keep the game within reach. He followed that up by hitting the game tying and go ahead free-throws in the final second against Charlotte after grabbing a last second offensive rebound off a Goodwin miss. Sunday night Love and Cedi Osman led a furious 4th quarter comeback against the Indiana Pacers which featured a 19-0 Cavs run. Love finished the fourth with 9 points on 3 of 4 shooting with 3 assists.

It’s difficult to believe how well this season has gone for Love considering everything that’s happened the last three seasons. Love is playing some of the best basketball of his career in a reduced role for a winning Cavaliers team. I’m not sure if anyone in the basketball world would’ve believed all those things would be happening simultaneously in Cleveland.

Late game defense continues to seal victories.

Three of the Cavs last five wins have featured a last second defensive stand where the opponent had a chance to tie or win the game in the closing seconds. The Cavs haven’t allowed a clean look in any of these situations.

Below we see the New York Knicks last second attempt on January 24. The first option on the play appears to be RJ Barrett who is trying to come off a screen set by Quentin Grimes. Isaac Okoro and Wade don’t allow that play to develop at all by thwarting the action before it can even start.

Ed Davis does a great job of not allowing the inbounder to get a clean pass off to someone going towards the basket. This forces Julius Randle to run away from the basket to get the inbound pass in. Stevens is there to contest the wild shot.

The Cavs got a similar result last Monday against the Pelicans. Here New Orleans is trying to get the ball to Davante Graham who was having a monster night. Okoro doesn’t allow Graham to create much separation after the Jonas Valančiūnas screen. Cedi Osman, who is covering the inbounder, flares out to provide additional help on Graham.

This forces New Orleans to go to their second option which is a dribble-handoff option with Valančiūnas and Herbert Jones. Evan Mobley sees it and cuts off any path for Jones to get to Valančiūnas. This forces him to try and drive through Allen for a game tying layup which doesn’t work since Allen never had to worry about the dribble-handoff and could stay home on Valančiūnas.

Charlotte tried to force a lob to Miles Bridges at the rim. Mobley’s length forces a wild pass from the inbounder that Bridges never really had a chance to do anything with.

The Cavs have had the best defense in the conference this season due to the versatility of the front court. The front court’s length combined the ability of guys like Stevens, Wade and Okoro to plaster opposing guards and wings have forced opponents to settle for terrible shots during late after timeout plays all season.

The margin for victory has been small with Garland out of the lineup. Being able to win games like this is a big reason why the Cavs have still been able to keep pace with the top of the Eastern Conference.

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