Many people wrote the Cleveland Cavaliers off when Darius Garland and Evan Mobley went down with injuries in mid-December. However, Cleveland has stayed afloat thanks to superstar guard Donovan Mitchell, former All-Star center Jarrett Allen, and an effective bench unit. The Cavaliers are streaking, going 11-3 since the two stars were removed from the lineup.
The Cavaliers Are Streaking as They Enter Huge Road Trip
The Cavs have quieted the trade speculations surrounding Mitchell, at least momentarily. During this 14-game stretch, they have the NBA’s sixth-best offensive rating, at 121.3, and the fourth-best defensive rating, at 110.8. Their 10.5 net rating ranks third during the same stretch. Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has his guys playing hard and sharing the ball effectively. They’re averaging 29.9 assists per game over this sample size, good for fifth in the NBA.
Cleveland is fresh off a 40-point victory over the Milwaukee Bucks sans Giannis Antetokounmpo. It was a wire-to-wire victory, which included a career-high 33 points for forward Georges Niang, three of which came off one of the better passes of Mitchell’s Cavs tenure.
The Upcoming Road Trip Is Massive for the Cavs
Though Cleveland’s resilience through injuries is worth celebrating, the fight is not nearly over. The Cavs are about to embark on a massively crucial four-game road trip. They play at Atlanta and Orlando before back-to-back games in Milwaukee against the same Bucks they just handled, though Antetokounmpo will be back for those games.
The Cavaliers currently sit fourth in the Eastern Conference at 24-15. However, only three games currently separate them from the eighth-seeded Orlando Magic. They are also only three games back from the second-seeded Bucks, who sit at 28-13. This is where the importance of the upcoming trip lies for the Cavs. If they go 4-0, they could jump up to second in the East. On the flip side, a 1-3 or even 0-4 road trip could easily drop them to the play-in tournament.
There is a long way to go in the season, but these games will have a massive impact on the final standings come April. Given the injuries the Cavs have dealt with and weathered, a 2-2 or 3-1 road trip would positively impact their chances to host a playoff series again in 2024.
Jarrett Allen Is Instrumental to Cleveland’s Immediate Success
Allen should be the secondary offensive focal point on this road trip after Mitchell. All three teams hosting the Cavs start centers with significantly less mobility than Allen. Hawks center Clint Capela is an excellent rim protector but struggles when opposing bigs bring him out to the perimeter. Allen is an outstanding high-screen setter and should be able to get some layups and dunks off of rolls to the basket. The same goes for the Magic’s centers. Goga Bitadze and Wendell Carter Jr. Carter have significantly more foot speed than Bitadze, but Orlando has been bringing the former off the bench of late. The Cavs should stagger Allen’s minutes to matchup primarily with Bitadze, allowing him to exploit the fact that he is superior to the Georgian center as an athlete.
Allen will close the road trip with back-to-back matchups against Bucks center Brook Lopez. Allen was dominant in the prior matchup, scoring 21 and adding 13 boards in only 26 minutes. Lopez is another center who stays near the basket on defense, which should provide Allen with space to make plays in the short roll or even shoot mid-range jumpers. If Allen can capitalize on these matchups, there is reason to believe the Cavaliers streak will continue.