The Cavaliers will breeze through their In-Season Group Stage

Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

The NBA has been hoping to increase the value of the regular season in the face of tanking and overwhelming load management. The Play-In Tournament at the end of the regular season has added a high level of competition in the ending months of the regular season, but the middle portion has still struggled to maintain viewership.

The Cleveland Cavaliers had a 51-31 record last season, and the upcoming season will be a proving ground for their viability as a contender after a deflating postseason failure. Teams in a similar scenario have a reason to vie for every regular season win, but top teams are more willing to rest their star players in a hefty portion of games.

In order to combat this, the NBA introduced a 65-game minimum for all regular season accolades and most recently announced the inaugural In-Season Tournament. All 30 teams will compete in a multi-stage pseudo-playoff experience.

Split into six groups of five teams, each group competes against each other once in the first round of the tournament. The best team in the group guarantees their spot into the next round, and two wild cards will join as well.

The Cavs have been placed into East Group A, competing against the Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks, and Detroit Pistons. Two games in the first stage will be played at home and two on the road.

Only the Cavs and Philadelphia went to the playoffs last season. Joel Embiid and the 76ers lost to the Boston Celtics in seven games in the second round, advancing further than Cleveland.

The other three teams are developing their core and improving each year. The Cavaliers will have a competitive group, but Donovan Mitchell and Cleveland will have the opportunity to prove themselves under the bright lights.

Cleveland’s offseason makes them the favorite to win their group

With the masterclass in building depth the Cavaliers showed this summer, they will enter the 2023-24 NBA season much more prepared for the grueling season.

Out of their group, Cleveland is the only team to have significantly improved over free agency. Additionally, their offseason moves may not be finished yet with recent rumors surrounding Charlotte forward P.J. Washington. Cleveland’s readiness to improve and surround their core with the right talent suggests a cohesive, dominant effort this season.

Looking at their group opponents, the Cavs are equipped to breeze to the top.

The Indiana Pacers built around Tyrese Haliburton, adding Bruce Brown Jr. and Obi Toppin, but they are not a fully realized team yet. Both Myles Turner and Haliburton have cumbersome injury history, which might hamper their chances by the November start date.

As for the Hawks and Pistons, their offseason was filled more with rumors and hopes rather than any transactions to improve. Atlanta’s most notable addition was Patty Mills, but they lost John Collins in the process. It is safe to say Atlanta grew worse over the summer.

The Pistons are seemingly relying on Cade Cunningham staying healthy for their improvement and chose to retain Bojan Bogdanovic as a veteran leader. They will surely be better than last year and have a bright future; yet, their current structure is still in early stages of rebuilding.

Finally, the 76ers are stuck in a purgatory with little end in sight. Daryl Morey and James Harden’s public feud in the wake of Harden’s standing trade demand has left Philly stagnant. If they cannot either convince Harden to stay and perform his best or trade him for a sizable return, then the 76ers could have a drastic falloff from their prior regular season success.

This sort of drama directly following an MVP season from Philly’s cornerstone star in Joel Embiid is a haunting omen for the future of the franchise, especially after the painstakingly drawn out end to Ben Simmons’ saga in the City of Brotherly Love.

In reality, the 76ers are a wild card opponent right now. If they can manage the Harden-Morey sideshow properly, then they could battle against the Cavaliers mightily. Otherwise, there is no telling who will and will not be on their roster by November, including Embiid.

In the 2022-23 season, the Cavaliers had an accumulative 9-5 record against their group rivals. They had a losing record against both the 76ers and Hawks but had a clean 4-0 sweep against Detroit (once again Ohio beats Michigan).

Considering the active offseason Cleveland has had compared to their opponents, they might enter the tournament with the best record out of these five teams.

Further, the Cavaliers have the most to prove. They have all the talent and makings of a legitimate threat in the Association, but their pitiful end has landed Cleveland barely holding onto a top 10 spot in ESPN’s early 2023-24 power rankings.

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There are plenty of questions the Cavaliers have seemingly answered this offseason, but now they have to prove those answers. The NBA Cup is the first chance to test the team’s resolve and cohesion.