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Toronto Raptors v Cleveland Cavaliers

What we learned about the Cleveland Cavaliers this week: March 7 - 13

The Cavs drop 2 of their 3 games this week despite excellent games from Darius Garland and Evan Mobley.

Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Cleveland Cavaliers dropped two of their three games this week. They now find themselves just a game ahead of the Toronto Raptors for the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference.

Here’s what we learned this week.

Things aren’t going to get easier with Jarrett Allen out of the lineup.

The Cavs are 26-14 in games that Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen all play and are 12-15 when at least one of those three are out of the lineup. The Cavs are an elite team that outscores opponents by 8 points per 100 possessions when all three are on the court together. However, they’re mediocre when at least one is out of the lineup. The problem is, the Cavs have only played six of their 16 games since the start of February with all three in the starting lineup.

The Cavs have unsurprisingly been a mediocre team since the beginning of February when Garland’s back issues started to keep him out of games. Since February 1, the Cavs have had the 25th offense (109.8 offensive rating), 14th defense (112.5) and 19th net rating (-2.6) in the league. This has resulted in a 7-9 record during that stretch.

The good news for the Cavs — in the long-term at least — is that the recent run of poor play appears to be mostly injury and fatigue-based. The healthy players have been forced to take on increased roles and play heavier minutes which has led to fatigue and inconsistent performances.

Hopefully, the Cavs can get healthy in time to salvage the remainder of this season. This team is good when they’re at full strength. When they aren’t, they need 41 point performances from Garland just to beat the Indiana Pacers.

Garland has been fantastic in the fourth quarter.

Garland’s 21 point fourth quarter Tuesday night against the Pacers was nothing short of spectacular. He finished the quarter shooting 7 of 10 from the field which included going 2 for 4 from deep. The all-star guard also found a way to get to the free-throw line consistently as he went 5 for 5 from the charity stripe in the final frame. He followed that up with a 9 point and 2 assist fourth quarter in a loss to the Miami Heat on Saturday.

Garland has been more aggressive in the nine games he played since being named an all-star on February 3. Since that date, he is averaging 27.8 points and 8.7 assists with .492/.417/.918 shooting splits.

Garland’s willingness to attack the basket has increased drastically during that time. Before February 3, only 20% of Garland’s shot attempts were coming at the rim which would put him in the 28th percentile for point guards. Since then, 36% of his shot attempts are at the rim which puts him in the 88th percentile for point guards. He is finishing 56% of those attempts.

Garland did most of his damage at the rim in the fourth quarter against the Pacers. He went three for four in the restricted area during the final frame while also attempting five free throws. Garland finished seven of his 10 shots at the rim throughout Tuesday’s game in Indiana.

Garland has not found a way to get to the line more consistently.

While Garland has increased his ability to get to the rim, he has not found a way to turn that into getting to the line more. Garland is drawing shooting fouls on only 5% of his shot attempts this season (23rd percentile for point guards) which is down from the 5.4% he drew last season. His increased willingness to get to the rim since February 3 has still only resulted in him drawing fouls on 6.7% of his shot attempts. Interestingly enough, he’s drawn the most non-shooting fouls for a point guard during that stretch.

Applying pressure on the defense, getting to the rim and drawing shooting fouls are all different skills. Garland’s increased aggressiveness has allowed him to make vast improvements in the first two areas, but not the third.

There is an art — if you want to call it that — to initiating contact in a way that forces officials to blow the whistle. Garland has not found a way to consistently do that which can limit his effectiveness as a scorer when his outside shot isn’t falling. Being able to get to the line more consistently is the last thing Garland truly needs to add to his scoring arsenal.

Rajon Rondo’s minutes this week were a disaster.

The Cavs lack of available bodies has made finding good bench lineups difficult. That said, the lineups led by Rondo have not done well. The Cavs were outscored by 45.3 points per 100 possessions in the 42 minutes Rondo was on the floor this week.

I don’t blame Rondo for this. He is 36 years old and coming off of an injury that has kept him out a few weeks. The veteran was brought in to be a stopgap after the Ricky Rubio injury and was never meant to carry units without NBA-level centers on the floor. The Caris LeVert trade should’ve put Rondo in a position to play a much more reduced role but that hasn’t materialized due to LeVert’s own injuries. That all said, Rondo didn’t look good in the minutes he played this week and the team suffered because of it.

Mobley has shown he can carry more of the scoring load with Allen out.

Mobley has stepped up in place of Allen as he is averaging 19.5 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.8 blocks per game in his last four outings. The rookie has increased his scoring while posting a 55.9 effective field goal percentage and finishing 84% of his shots at the rim during that stretch.

A lot of the Cavs problems over this week have come with Mobley on the bench. The Cavs have outscored opponents by 1.3 points per game with the rookie on the floor but were outscored by an average of 7.7 points in the 11.6 minutes per game Mobley was on the bench this week. This is the most drastic swing for any one of the starters. This shows just how much the Cavs are relying on Mobley on both ends while also illustrating the lack of center depth behind Allen and Mobley.

Mobley continues to show why he should be the rookie of the year. He has played all-defensive team level defense this season which is unheard of for a rookie not named Tim Duncan. His offensive game has been less polished although still more than serviceable. Being forced into a more traditional center role offensively with Allen out has given him more room to operate in the pick-and-roll while also forcing him to carry more of the offensive load.

Watching the market: Cleveland Cavaliers at Philadelphia 76ers

Final Score: Cleveland Cavaliers lose to Philadelphia 76ers 104-97

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