Cleveland Cavaliers: 3 things to watch for in preseason opener

Cleveland Cavaliers, Jarrett Allen. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Cleveland Cavaliers, Jarrett Allen. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports /
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On April 26, 2023, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost Game 5 of their First Round playoff series to the New York Knicks, a loss that eliminated them from the postseason and ended their season. That makes 167 days since the Cavs last played an official basketball game.

It was an eventful 5.5 months, for the Cavaliers and the rest of the league. Cleveland said goodbye to beloved role players Cedi Osman and Lamar Stevens added shooting with Max Strus, Georges Niang and Ty Jerome. Victor Wembanyama is on the San Antonio Spurs, Chris Paul is on the Golden State Warriors, and Damian Lillard is on the Milwaukee Bucks. James Harden? He’s still on the Philadelphia 76ers.

The long wait without basketball ends tonight, as Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and company will suit up to face the Atlanta Hawks in their preseason opener. The game tips off at 7:30 PM ET in Atlanta, and two teams that kept together their cores will see how offseason tinkering works out.

Let’s look at three things to watch for in tonight’s action, starting with who will begin the game on the basketball court.

No. 1: Who will start?

This question was likely an easier one to answer a few days ago when everyone on the roster was healthy. Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen were locks, and Max Strus seemed like the obvious candidate to fill the final starting slot.

Now things are more up in the air, as Jarrett Allen is out for a few weeks with an ankle injury. Do the Cavaliers simply swap in their next center, likely former Utah Jazz big man Damian Jones? That would preserve the roles for everyone else that they would play once Allen returns.

The other option is to slide Evan Mobley to center and open up the offense. That preps the team in case Allen isn’t ready to go at the start of the season and gives them a glimpse of a life without him if the team decides to trade Allen during the season. In that scenario, Georges Niang could get a crack at the starting lineup, or Dean Wade could come in for more of a defensive presence.

The prediction here is Niang, but there are a lot of different options available to head coach J.B. Bickerstaff.