The Cleveland Cavaliers jumped back to irrelevancy when LeBron James bolted for sunny and flashy Los Angeles in 2018. Fortunately, which is much credit to the team’s front office, the rebuild was quick and they are back to business out East.
It’s simply a fun time to be a Cavs fan again. How can it not? They are top four in the Eastern Conference with a 27-16 slate, arguably have the best defense in the league (1st in points allowed and 2nd in defensive rating), and own a fine collection of young talent. Oh, and they also have a shiny, new toy in Donovan Mitchell – an All-Star, scoring machine at his peak.
We could go on with the praises. They have one of the top home records at 18-4 and keep in mind that they got past the league-leading Boston Celtics twice this season, both in overtime.
All of that is great to marvel at. At the same time, though, it makes one think and look closer at the team. Maybe this is just overthinking and splitting hairs, but who really knows? Besides, it’s usually the thing whenever a new contender comes in because you need to know just how ‘for real’ they really are.
Postseason mileage is a big factor when making a run because it’s a different animal – where “the men get separated from the boys,” as they say. Also, as we’ve seen over and over again, regular season glory means zilch in the playoffs – everyone’s 0-0 again and every team’s overall makeup changes, from how they walk to how they go about their set plays.
There’s somewhat of a questionable playoff resume in the Cavs. Considering minutes played, importance of series, and role within that respective team, Mitchell and Kevin Love are the only ones who have legit postseason experience. Even then, you can still poke holes – Mitchell has had a history of underperforming in key games or his team blowing winnable games (more on that later), while Love is now an elder statesman who plays limited minutes.
Floor general Ricky Rubio is finally back but he’s a wildcard for now since he’s coming off a serious injury. Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen both played valuable roles in the 2019 and 2020 Brooklyn Nets playoff teams, but it may not mean much given that they were afterthoughts for the most part, hence the quick eliminations.
Then, there’s head coach JB Bickerstaff. He’s a veteran and a second-generation NBA coach, having been in the craft since 2004. While he has seen deep runs as one of Kevin McHale’s assistants with the Houston Rockets, being the head coach is a different story. He has only been in the playoffs once (2016), and it ended in a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of the Golden State Warriors.
Quick reminder: Bickerstaff and most of the core from last season is still on the roster, and they collapsed by falling into the play-in spots and losing both games.
Donovan Mitchell and his recent teams’ shortcomings
There’s no arguing Spida’s offensive repertoire and ability to takeover games whenever he enters that zone. Heck, we just saw him go berserk for 71 points earlier this month.
Having said that, there’s also no denying that he and the Utah Jazz teams he’s been on showcased some disappointing playoff exits. Not all blame should fall on his lap, of course, (cough Rudy Gobert cough), but he’s one-half of the feature tandem, so he does have to shoulder some since he would also have gotten a good bulk of the glory had they won.
Nevertheless, I’ll leave you with some notes on how Mitchell and his teams have gone in the postseason since 2019:
- 2019 – Lost to the Houston Rockets, 4-1, while shooting a horrid 32.1% in the series.
- 2020 – Lost to the Denver Nuggets, 4-3, after leading the series, 3-1.
- 2021 – Lost to the Los Angeles Clippers, 4-2, and blew a 25-point lead in Game 6. Clippers All-Star Kawhi Leonard did not play in Games 5 and 6.
- 2022 – Lost to the Dallas Mavericks, 4-2, and averaged just 16 points on 30.8% shooting in Games 4 and 5.
It’s something to think about as we await the progression of this Cavs team, especially since a postseason berth is very much now in the horizon. The critical basketball fan in you will be cynical, but the natural hoop fan in you would also love to be proven wrong. We’ll see. It should be exciting.