Why the Cavs are a lock to make the playoffs in 2022-2023

Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /
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Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images /

The Cleveland Cavaliers at a certain point last year looked like they were a lock to make the playoffs. The high mark for them was on Feb. 11, when they had a 35-21 record and at the time were tied with the Chicago Bulls for the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. Cleveland went into the All-Star break with a 35-23 record, which put them 4th in a tough East.

Around that point, injuries started to derail the Cavs season. Darius Garland missed some games with an ailing back around the All-Star break and even post-All-Star break. With the Cavaliers having already lost Ricky Rubio and Collin Sexton, and with Caris LeVert missing a bunch of games post-All-Star Break, Garland was often the only legitimate ball handler Cleveland had.

When Garland was off the court the offense fell apart. We saw that late in games everything was on Garland to do everything, considering they didn’t have another truly respectable ball handler.

Jarrett Allen mostly being out post-All-Star and even Evan Mobley missing some time was also a major contributing factor to the defensive slip and another reason why they slipped in the standings then. I think before the blockbuster Donovan Mitchell trade, if you were projecting the Cavs getting a healthy Rubio and Sexton back, LeVert being more comfortable, while seeing a leap from Mobley and another jump from Garland, you could see a scenario where the Cavaliers jump a team like the Bulls and be a No. 6-7 seed.

That may not sound like a huge jump, but it is when you consider the gauntlet that the East now is. Considering the Cavs haven’t come near their potential ceiling as a young team, a No. 6-7 seed would be a good season.

The trade for Mitchell, meanwhile, is an absolute game-changer for the Cavs and assuredly, in my opinion, should solidify them as a playoff team. I think before, their best-case scenario was probably the 6th seed. After that acquisition from the Utah Jazz, the Cavaliers could get as high as the 3rd seed with Mitchell in the fold.