The Cleveland Cavaliers do not have an easy schedule to start the new campaign. They will face off with the Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks, Sacramento Kings and Brooklyn Nets – four of last season’s playoff teams in the first 10 matches. Yet, the Warriors and Knicks each have two dates with Cleveland in that span, and so does the Oklahoma City Thunder, a Play-In Tournament group on the verge of becoming a serious club in the West. Don’t discredit the Indiana Pacers either after their efficient offseason.
First, Cleveland will take on the Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets are one of the most exciting teams in the league because their starting lineup is massive, and their depth is underrated. In man-to-man coverage, the hosts will likely defend Cleveland’s backcourt with Mikal Bridges on Donovan Mitchell and Cameron Johnson checking Darius Garland. This would allow them to hide Spencer Dinwiddie on Max Strus, whose shot profile is 70 percent from deep and 94.9 percent of attempts are assisted.
In March of last season (the last full month before the playoffs), Brooklyn’s opponents attempted the fifth-fewest frequency of three-pointers. The length on the perimeter when in a zone or playing tight persuades rivals to go inside the arc, where the Nets held a 53.6 percent Defensive Field Goal Percentage, the fourth-strictest mark of the month.
The Cavaliers will pick up a loss in the season’s first game.
In the home opener, the backcourt will have shining moments, but this is a game for the frontcourt to dominate over OKC‘s young bigs. Borrowing a term from the great coach Vance Walberg, Chet Holmgren “chews on rocks” and is likely a future star, but he’s very thin and can still get pushed around. Jaylin Williams, who played in 49 games as a rookie last season and had 36 starts, could get time to deal with Cleveland’s size, but he might get in foul trouble. He picks up 4.4 fouls per 36 minutes.
Luguentz Dort is a pest, but if he is slotted at power forward next to Holmgren, Jalen Williams, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey, he’ll get taken advantage of when Evan Mobley posts him up at close range and uses the hook. OKC’s Dāvis Bertāns wouldn’t work in this matchup either; he can hit triples at a high clip but would do little to stop inside penetration or bigs muscling inside.
Cleveland gets its first win.
Offensively, Myles Turner is quietly one of the most efficient big men in the NBA and is a quality shot blocker. The former and underutilized New York Knick, Obi Toppin, now joins him in the frontcourt, adding the versatility of a high-level athlete and decent outside threat. Guarding Tyrese Haliburton and Toppin in pick-and-roll while Turner hovers over the dunker spot will be challenging, especially if Buddy Hield is still creeping behind the arc. Hield splashed 288 3-pointers last season (second in the NBA), and the Pacers have at least two options that draw extra help consistently on drives.
Yet, Indiana’s guards (Haliburton, Bennedict Mathurin) cannot stop the ball outside. The newly-acquired Bruce Brown from the champion Denver Nuggets can, but he’s still in for a long night in front of DG and Spida.
Another win for the Cavaliers.