It was a tough week for the Cleveland Cavaliers as star rookie Evan Mobley went down with an ankle sprain. Things weren’t much better on the court as they dropped three of their five games this week.
Here’s what we learned.
Darius Garland’s outside shooting is peaking at the right time.
Garland was not having his best outside shooting month in March. From the beginning of the month through March 27, the third year guard was shooting just 31.8% on 6.5 threes per game. That has turned around drastically this past week as he shot 56.3% from deep on 6.4 threes per game.
Garland has been keeping the Cavs afloat without Mobley and Jarrett Allen despite his recent shooting slump. The Cavs are outscoring opponents by 3.5 points per 100 possessions with Garland on the floor in the 15 games since Allen’s injury. However, they’re being outscored by 28.1 points per 100 possessions with Garland off.
Garland is the sole reason why this team has been competitive in recent games despite the number of injuries. It’s somewhat remarkable the Cavs still have a shot at making the playoffs all things considered.
Caris LeVert looks more comfortable since being put into the starting lineup.
LeVert has put up his best scoring numbers with the Cavs since being inserted into the starting lineup last Saturday. LeVert is averaging 17.2 points, 4.5 assists and 1.2 steals on .471/.333/.706 shooting splits in his six games as a starter. He has looked much more comfortable offensively. Playing off of Garland has allowed LeVert to be more patient and selective for when to attack off the dribble.
While LeVert has looked more comfortable offensively, him being in the starting lineup hasn’t exactly led to team success. The Cavs were outscored by 14.4 points per 100 possessions in the 205 minutes he’s played in his last six games. Conversely, the Cavs are outscoring their opponents by 23.8 points per 100 possessions in the 83 minutes he’s been off the court.
It’s unknown how the starting lineup will play out if/when Mobley and Allen are able to return. The presumed starting lineup of Garland, LeVert, Lauri Markkanen, Mobley and Allen have not played at all together this season. Conversely, the starting lineup of Garland, Isaac Okoro, Markkanen, Mobley and Allen is outscoring opponents by 11.6 points per 100 possessions and the Cavs are 13-6 in games that unit has played.
Moses Brown is worth taking a look at next season.
Brown has been adequate since Mobley went down with an injury last week against the Orlando Magic. Brown has averaged 13 points on 66.7% shooting with 11.8 rebounds and 1 turnover per game in the four games since.
Brown has shown to be a solid rim runner and screener which is something this team has desperately needed with Allen out. While he doesn’t necessarily have the best hands, he has can finish well at the rim if given the chance to do so.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t been a good defender thus far with the Cavs. Brown hasn’t shown the necessary footspeed to stay in front of opponents on the perimeter and has a tendency to drop too much on screens to the point where it feels like he is completely out of the action.
That all said, Brown has the physical skills to be intriguing as a third center. I’m interested to see how he would develop with this team if given the opportunity to do so.
Lamar Stevens is making a strong case for playoff minutes.
How the Cavs’ play-in/playoff rotations shake out will likely depend on the matchup. Stevens has made a strong case that he deserves a spot in that probable eight man rotation. In his last 10 games, Stevens is averaging 12.1 points with a 52.7 effective field goal percentage and 4.3 rebounds in 24.7 minutes per game.
Stevens is putting up decent offensive numbers while being asked to guard and play multiple positions depending on the matchup. For example, Stevens was the primary defender on Luka Dončić during Wednesday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks. A few days later he was forced into guarding Joel Embiid for extended stretches on Sunday night.
Going from an undrafted rookie last season to having a spot in a potential playoff rotation just a year later is noteworthy for an organization that has previously not been able to capitalize on second round talent or undrafted players. Stevens has been an excellent pickup and should be able to find a spot in the rotation in the coming years no matter how the roster changes over time. There will always be room on the floor for versatile defenders who can provide energy on both ends.
The Cavs need to prepare for the play-in.
The Cavs have all but officially exited the race for the sixth seed. They are now two and a half games behind both the Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors for the fifth and sixth spots. To catch the Bulls, the Cavs would need to win all three of their remaining games and hope the Bulls lost all four of theirs.
To catch the Raptors, the Cavs would need to either win all three of their remaining games while the Raptors lost three of their final four games or the Cavs could win two of their remaining three while the Raptors lost all four of theirs.
It has become more realistic to focus on the play-in. The Cavs are two and a half games up on the ninth seeded Charlotte Hornets and the tenth seeded Brooklyn Nets. The magic number to clinch a spot over either the Hornets or Nets is two. This means some combination of wins for the Cavs and individual losses for either team that equals two would give the Cavs the edge in the standings over that individual team.
The Cavs are currently a game and a half up on the Atlanta Hawks and do not own the tiebreaker against them. The Hawks have four remaining games against the Raptors, Washington Wizards, Miami Heat and Houston Rockets.
Here is a rundown of ways the Cavs could secure a spot over the Hawks.
- The Cavs win all three remaining games.
- The Cavs win two of their three remaining games and the Hawks lose at two of their four games.
- The Hawks lose three of their four remaining games.
It’ll be interesting to see how J.B. Bickerstaff and company balance staying fresh for the play-in with going all out to retain home court advantage. The last week of the season should be interesting to say the least.