‘Whatever seed we are, we’re ready’: Is there room for Cleveland among the East elite?
BOSTON. When the Cleveland Cavaliers traded for Donovan Mitchell, the focus wasn’t on instant success.
Suddenly, three young All-Stars appeared in the Cleveland roster – Mitchell, Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen. The trio, plus NBA Rookie of the Year runner-up and rising star Evan Mobley, signed on for at least three more seasons.
This is the core that NBA franchises dream of, without the immediate drive to win that often follows.
But then the season started. And four months after an 8-1 start, the Cavaliers were in fourth place ahead of the regular season segment—and with a whole new perspective.
“[Outsiders] looked at us as a young team, and you don’t expect much from a young team,” Allen told Sportzshala ahead of Cleveland’s 117-113 loss to the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night. “You expect them to come in and try to understand themselves. outside.
“But I feel like we came in and made an impact on the league.”
It is unlikely that Cleveland proved this. The Cavaliers are one of only three teams, along with Boston and the Philadelphia 76ers, to rank in the top 10 for both offensive and defensive performance. Mitchell and Garland formed one of the most dynamic backcourts in the league. Mobley and Allen make up one of the most impressive pairings of rim guards in the league.
But none of this changes the group’s collective lack of experience. The eight players who played Wednesday’s first half have played a total of 11 playoff series in their careers.
Mitchell, who has made it to the second round twice in his five NBA seasons, is the only current Cavs player to make it past the first round. (Former NBA champion Kevin Love and Cleveland agreed to a buyout on Feb. 18.)
“If you look at all the teams that are above us, then they all went through [postseasons] several times and had several series of failures, and then somewhere they were able to figure it out, ”said Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff.
The three teams that Bickerstaff talked about — the Milwaukee Bucks, the Celtics, and the 76ers — are veteran-rich teams with playoff experience. Naturally, expecting Cleveland to immediately be at their level, regardless of talent, would be an overstatement.
What has changed is the landscape around the Cavaliers in the East, leaving the door ajar to join the conference elite.
The Brooklyn Nets, who once should have been in the top four, are no longer champions after the trade of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. According to Caesars Sportsbook, the Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors are all 46.5 to 48.5 wins along with Cleveland at the start of the season, battling for a spot to play.
So the New York Knicks in fifth place — winners of seven games in a row since the Nets thrashed Wednesday at Madison Square Garden — pose the biggest threat to Cleveland, who gained home court advantage in the first round. (It also creates the perfect opportunity for Mitchell to go head-to-head with the team that’s been mooted for so many summers as his possible landing spot.)
“I think we’re capable of being a championship team,” Mitchell said after Wednesday’s loss. “I think the most important thing for us, obviously, it’s not a secret, it’s that we lack experience. When people say that we are “not in their top three” or something like that, it’s normal.
“I think the most important thing for us is that we believe that we can’t just make the playoffs, but make a deep run, and all this, as I said, is a learning experience …
“It’s about continuing to get better, so when we make the playoffs, whatever seed we’re in, we’ll be ready.”
Ultimately, Wednesday’s game showed just how far Cleveland must go.
Mitchell was outstanding, finishing with 44 points on 17-of-32 shooting – his seventh 40-point game this season, the highest by a Cavs player since LeBron James in 2009-10, according to Sportzshala statistics and information. Garland added 29 points and nine assists.
The rest of the Cavaliers hit 1-of-11 combined from three-point range. Mobley (12 points, 13 rebounds, 6-of-15 shooting) and Allen (2 of 5, 5 points, 7 rebounds) lost to Al Horford (23 points, 11 rebounds, 8-of-10 shooting and 6-of-8 from 3-pointers) and Robert Williams III (11 points, 11 rebounds).
Jason Tatum, for his part, exposed a huge hole in Cleveland’s defense at small forward, splitting the Cavaliers en route to 41 points on 13-of-21 shooting with 11 rebounds and 8 assists in 36 minutes.
“They were in the playoffs in the second half,” Garland said of the Celtics.
“They hit us right in the mouth and we waited too long to respond and hit back. Their intensity has increased and this is where we need to grow.
“They’ve been here before, they know how to turn up the volume and add intensity, put up a fight.”
For a team that hasn’t made the playoffs without James in 25 years, the crucible of the upcoming postseason will teach their young core what they need to improve, as well as show Bickerstaff, general manager Kobe Altman and the Cleveland front office where the roster is. need to. grow.
“I think we have the ability to beat anyone in front of us,” Bickerstaff said. “But what we have to do is that there are things we haven’t gone through. There is some experience that we did not have.
“I want to tell our guys that we will go as far and as fast as we learn from our mistakes… If we can switch switches quickly, we can go a long, long way.”