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Cavaliers Adjusting to the Season's Changing Landscape as Roadie Rolls On
With Wednesday’s loss in Denver (thankfully) in the books, the Cavaliers have three games remaining on their West Coast junket – and it doesn’t get easier, with stops in Portland, L.A. and San Francisco still on the slate.
This recent roadie also marks the one-third mark of the truncated 2020-21 schedule. When the Wine & Gold return from the trip they’ll have four straight at home, two on the road to wrap up the month and begin March and one more home contest against the Pacers to close out the first half.
(The scheduling of postponed games – for the Cavaliers, a pair in Washington – and an All-Star Game are still pending at this date.)
As J.B. Bickerstaff’s squad looks to rebound from a tough loss in the Mile High City and right the ship on the trip, here’s a quick look at the first third of the season and what might lie ahead as the unconventional campaign continues …
1. Bug Bite -- The Cavaliers have been walloped by injuries all season long, most notably to their six-time All-Star power forward Kevin Love, who’s appeared in just two games after suffering a right calf injury.
Dylan Windler missed 13 games with a broken left hand and Larry Nance is currently out six weeks with a broken left ring finger. Matthew Dellavedova still hasn’t suited up in the regular season after suffering the second concussion of his career in the preseason.
Heading into the weekend’s games, the Cavaliers have lost exactly 100 combined games to injury this season, with J.B. Bickerstaff utilizing 13 starting lineups through the team’s first 26 games.
Love could return as soon as Cleveland’s return from the trip. The junior Nance still has a ways to go.
2. Up Front and Personal -- Until some recent struggles, the Cavaliers had three different frontline players leading three different statistical NBA categories. And as things change daily, they’re all still right near the top.
Jarrett Allen is still the league’s leader in field goal percentage at .667. The fourth-year man notched his third double-double as a Cavalier on Wednesday night – finishing with 18 points and 10 boards – and is averaging 12.4 points, 7.5 boards and 1.8 blocks in 13 games with the Wine and Gold.
A couple tough nights by Andre Drummond allowed Atlanta’s Clint Capela to take the NBA’s rebounding lead, but Drummond is right behind him with at 13.8rpg. He’s second to Capela on the offensive glass and second to Rudy Gobert defensively.
Larry Nance Jr. is still the league’s steals leader at 1.95spg, with Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday in hot pursuit. Unfortunately, Nance will have to wait until March before he resumes his quest.
Isaac Okoro leads all rookies in minutes-played (33.8mpg) as the 20-year-old barrels through his baptism-by-fire on a nightly basis.
3. Let's Make a Deal -- The Cavaliers are a different team today than the one that started the season. And there’s a chance they could look different than they do as we draw closer to the league’s March 25 trade deadline.
Cleveland’s already made a pair of deals this year. The smaller deal involved shipping Kevin Porter Jr. to the Rockets in exchange for a 2024 2nd round draft pick and a trade exception.
Porter – whom the organization hoped would be a young building block – had a difficult offseason and could never get on the same page with the team when action resumed. He didn’t suit up for a single game this season and appeared on the team’s bench just once.
That deal was a tough one to swallow. The other trade Cleveland pulled off paid immediate dividends and only continues to get better.
In last night’s loss to Denver, the Cavs two leading scorers were players acquired in that four-team trade – Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince, acquired on January 13 in exchange for Dante Exum, a first and a second round pick.
Every team in that deal – Cleveland, Brooklyn, Houston and Indiana – seemed to get what they wanted.
Along with Allen’s outstanding production, Prince has been rock-solid as a reserve or starter – averaging 10.3 points on .404 shooting from the floor, .446 from deep in 13 appearances as a Cavalier.
4. New Attitude -- The Cavaliers had been one of the most woeful defensive teams in the league immediately after their four-year Finals run, ranking at or near the bottom in most categories. And although the team’s struggled a bit lately, J.B. Bickerstaff has instilled a more defensive-minded mentality in the squad in a very short time.
Going into Friday night’s contest in Portland, the Cavaliers rank in the league’s top 5 in steals (4th – 8.69) and forced turnovers (5th – 15.8). Cleveland’s tied with Charlotte for 11th in points allowed at 111.2ppg and is fourth in total points off turnovers (488).
The Wine & Gold are also the league’s most tenacious in the paint – averaging 54.2 points per. The Cavs have already scored 60-plus points in the paint 10 times this year, the most in a single campaign in over 20 years.
The Cavaliers are tied for 11th in blocks per game (5.31) after being literally at rock bottom over the past two seasons.
5. Guarded Optimism -- The Cavaliers have posted some impressive numbers on the inside from their enviable collection of big men, but the Wine & Gold get their mojo from the dynamic backcourt duo of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, now in their second season together.
Sexton has had an All-Star caliber season in his third year out of Alabama – leading the squad in scoring and running his 20-point scoring streak to 15 games earlier this year.
Sexton also had his streak of 165 straight appearances to start his career snapped when an ankle injury sidelined him for five games. All the Young Bull did when he returned from that injury was post one of the greatest individual performances in team history – dropping 42 points on the Nets in a double-overtime classic, canning the game-tying bomb in the first OT period and exploding for 15 points in the second.
This season, Sexton is one of only five NBA players averaging at least 22.0 points and 4.0 assists while shooting at least 48 percent from the floor and 42 percent from long-range.
Darius Garland came to Camp beefed up and he’s been solid throughout his sophomore season – averaging 15.6ppg, good for third-best on the squad. Garland has failed to reach double-figure scoring in only three of his 18 starts, topping the 20-point plateau on five separate occasions.
The 21-year-old, who leads the team in assists at 5.5apg, recently scored his 1,000th career point, becoming the fourth-youngest Cavalier to ever do so.