The last month of basketball wasn’t pretty, but the Cleveland Cavaliers were able to hold onto to the eighth seed. They will have two games to win one starting with the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night.
Here’s what we learned this week.
Loss of focus should’ve cost the Cavs a spot in the top eight.
The Cavs aren’t a good team when Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen are both out of the lineup. There is no backline defense without either and the perimeter defense isn’t good enough to make up for it. It’s tough to expect their 20th ranked offense offense to carry them to many victories when their normally formidable defense isn’t there. That said, the loss against the Orlando Magic on Tuesday was inexcusable given what was on the line.
The Magic went into the game with an incentive to lose. The Cavs went into it trying to hold off both the Atlanta Hawks and Nets for the seventh seed and still had an outside shot at avoiding the play-in altogether with three games remaining. Those ingredients usually lead to a game that gets out of hand quickly. However, that wasn’t the case.
The Cavs were able to rebound against another team with nothing to play for on Sunday afternoon as they cruised to an easy victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. The Cavs are lucky the Hawks lost two of their last four games to give them a spot inside the top eight.
Darius Garland continues to show up in big games.
Garland was one of the few Cavs that did show up for the Magic game and every game after. The all-star guard had one of his best scoring games of the season when the Cavs needed it most on Friday night in their matchup with the Nets. Garland finished the outing with 31 points on 12-24 shooting which included going 3-6 from deep. It was encouraging to see Garland able to finish at the rim and have the confidence to pull up from deep in a game played with playoff intensity.
Garland has taken his game to another level since being named an all-star. In the 24 games he’s played since Feb. 3, the third-year guard has averaged 25.2 points per game on .455/.412/.880 shooting splits while averaging 9.3 assists and 3.7 turnovers per game. The all-star nomination appears to have given him the confidence needed to truly unlock his game. It’s been impressive to see him step up as a scorer and as a facilitator for his teammates.
Garland is playing his best basketball of the season now and has shown up this week when his team needed it most. Postseason basketball is a completely different animal. We’ll see if he can keep this up over the next week and possibly beyond.
It’s good to have Evan Mobley back.
Mobley has done a nice job of reminding the basketball community why he should be Rookie of the Year with his play the last two games. Mobley looked fresh coming back from injury as he put up 17 points on 6-11 shooting with seven rebounds, three assists and two blocks. He followed that up by taking care of business against the shorthanded Bucks on Sunday finishing with 18 points on 8-3 shooting with 10 rebounds and four blocks in just 23 minutes.
It’s hard to overstate how much better this team is defensively with Mobley out there. There are few defenders in the league who have his combination of size, athleticism and defensive instincts. It’ll be interesting to see how J.B. Bickerstaff and his staff use his defensive versatility Tuesday night as they try and contain Kevin Durant and company.
Kevin Love puts an exclamation mark on his comeback season.
Love provided a vintage performance on Sunday afternoon against the shorthanded Bucks. The Sixth-Man of the Year hopeful contributed 18 first quarter points on five of six shooting from deep. He finished the afternoon with 32 points on 8-11 three point shooting with 10 rebounds.
Love completed his comeback season averaging 13.6 points on .430/.392/.838 shooting splits with 7.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 74 games which is his most since the 2016 season. Per 36 numbers can be deceiving as they can be used to over-inflate the stats of players not getting starter’s minutes. If Love was able and good enough to still play 36 minutes a game he would be. That said, Love finished the season averaging 21.8 points and 11.6 rebounds per 36 minutes which is his highest scoring output in a full season’s work since 2018. This, combined with his shooting numbers, show how Love has been able to make the most of his opportunities on the offensive end in the 22.5 minutes a game he’s played.
It’s remarkable how well Love has transitioned into a bench role considering how poorly the last couple seasons have gone. Love doesn’t deserve extra praise for turning around a situation he’s mostly responsible for creating, but it’s fair to acknowledge this outcome didn’t seem remotely possible this time last year.
I don’t think Love’s season will or should be rewarded with a sixth-man of the year award. Tyler Herro is a much better player who has had a much better season, but there’s an argument to be made that the award shouldn’t go to someone playing starter’s minutes. That said, the fact that Love is in the conversation is worth celebrating. Not many saw this season from him coming.