Cleveland Cavaliers basketball is not far away. Some Cavs will soon be in Los Angeles for some player-led workouts, training camp begins next month and the season begins soon after that.
With the 2022-23 schedule out, it’s also time to key on a few games worth special attention. All 82 have value — they tell you about what’s going on with a team at a give time and are a piece of the 82-game puzzle. But here are seven that standout from the rest.
Wednesday, Oct. 19: Cavaliers at Raptors
There are two reasons why this matchup is a must-watch. For one, it’s Cleveland’s regular season opener. If preseason is the appetizer, this is the main course to basketball being back.
Secondly, the Cavs and Raptors feel like rivals anew. Each team has a standout rookie from last year’s class — Cleveland in Evan Mobley, Toronto in Scottie Barnes. Both teams seem to be a step below the Eastern Conference’s upper tier with ambition of jumping up into the upper half of the conference. They play highly different styles, with the Cavs leaning into size and the Raptors opting for 6’9” and under and an in-your-face style. This game has any kind of story angle you want in a season opener and a game to watch as both of these teams go.
Wednesday, Nov. 2: Cavaliers vs. Celtics
Cleveland’s opening five games — at Toronto, at Chicago, home vs. Washington, home vs. Orlando, at Boston — is a tough opening stretch. It’s capped off by Boston, owner’s of an all-time elite defense last season and coming off of an NBA Finals appearance.
Cleveland also hasn’t played Boston since last December — before the Celtics really took off and become an elite team. The Cavs lost that game 111-101 to snap a Cavs winning streak at six. Jaylen Brown scored 34 points against the Cavs while Cleveland shot 39% from the field.
The Celtics were just the Cavs would like to be. Let’s see how they matchup early in the season. Cleveland at Milwaukee on Nov. 16 fits the criteria here too.
Friday, Nov. 11: Cavaliers at Warriors
The Cavs’ first road trip of the season begins in Detroit on Nov. 4 and ends a week later in San Francisco. (Sandwiched in-between are two games in Los Angeles and a game in Sacramento against Mike Brown’s Kings.)
The Warriors matchup at the end matters for two reasons. For one, it’s a matchup against the defending champs — that matters. Secondly, it’s the end of an early season run for Cleveland that will tell us where they are at a few weeks into the year. West Coast road trips are always hard and it doesn’t get harder than finishing a trip against the Warriors.
Saturday, Dec. 31 & Monday, Jan. 2: Cavaliers at Bulls and Cavaliers vs. Bulls
By December and into January, it should be somewhat clear what Cleveland is. Chicago is both a more veteran squad that finished above the Cavs last year and is a divisional opponent. (Divisions are stupid, but they factor into scheduling, so here are we are.) Let’s see what the Cavs look like here vs. a team that is more built to win right now with DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and others.
I also love the home-and-home element here, as well as the mini series teams will play to reduce travel. It’s going to be fascinating, for instance, to see how the Cavs handle playing the Heat two times in three days on the road in March.
Saturday, Jan. 14: Cavaliers at Timberwolves
This marks the end of another Cavs road trip. Before this game, the Cavs play the Nuggets, the Suns, the Jazz and the Trail Blazers on the road. Including the Wolves, four of these fives have playoff ambitions for this next season. The Nuggets and Suns have title hopes.
The 2021-22 Wolves made the playoffs and were a bit better than the Cavs based on point differential. They’ve also made an offseason swing to get Rudy Gobert and play him with Karl-Anthony Towns. Let’s see both how the Cavs compete against a team that was a little better than them last year and how the Mobley-Jarrett Allen duo battles Gobert and Towns.
Thursday, Feb. 23: Cavaliers vs. Nuggets
The Cavs have largely played the Nuggets tough the last few years. (Remember when John Beilein went in and won in Denver?) They might be a title contender this year if healthy. Watching the Cavs’ bigs defend Nikola Jokic is a treat. Maybe we’ll get a Darius Garland-Jamal Murray shootout.
This game is also the second game in a key February stretch. Before Denver, the Cavs play at Philadelphia. After the Nuggets, the Cavs play at Atlanta and then home against Toronto. On March 1, they go to Boston. This is a put up or shut up stretch.
Tuesday, March 28: Cavaliers at Hawks
Overall, the Cavs’ end of season schedule is manageable. They have a home game against the Rockets, two road games against the Magic and home games against the Knicks and Pacers. Sandwiched between the Rockets and Knicks game is a road game against Trae Young and the Hawks – the team that sent the Cavs home from the play-in tournament last season.
It’s far too early to say that this game will have real stakes — so much will change and evolve and happen between now and March 2023. But this game feels like one that could have real stakes if Cleveland if making a playoff push while making up for missing out on the real fun last year.