Predicting the Cavaliers record through the first 10 games of 2023-24

Tristan Thompson and Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images
Tristan Thompson and Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images /
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Cleveland Cavaliers
Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

New York Knicks (home)

Mitchell didn’t play up to his standards in the playoffs, plus Allen and Mobley were overpowered by the frontcourt. In five games, the Cavaliers were outrebounded by 41. To prevent the match from getting ugly for the Cavs, expect Tristan Thompson to get minutes, to throw his weight around the paint, and act as a bodyguard if need be.

No doubt, the disappointment and embarrassment have stewed inside the hearts and minds of the Cavaliers all offseason. This time, helping out The Land is Max Strus, who logged 14.7 points on 47.8 percent shooting in the Conference Semifinals versus New York as a member of the Miami Heat. The Knicks had a tendency last season of sagging off the corners to clog the lane. This is a suboptimal tactic with a sniper in Strus on the floor because he recorded 46.1 percent of corner triples, and is sharper from deep at home.

The Cavs will have no trouble drawing extra help and are starving for revenge. They’ll draw first blood in the miniseries with New York.

New York Knicks (away)

Fun Fact: In seven regular season games at Madison Square Garden, Mitchell has a 3-4 record while scoring 24.7 points on 44.4 percent of field goal tries, per Stathead (subscription required). It shouldn’t surprise anyone if Mitchell goes for a 40-piece against the team that ruined a chunk of his summer in its house.

Quentin Grimes and Josh Hart are good point-of-attack defenders who will probably tag Mitchell. Like in the last game, Strus’ deep shooting will be critical to take attention away from the backcourt. Split action would be a great way to get him involved with open, deep looks on the wings before he becomes a handoff merchant or corner threat.

In the playoffs, New York’s Julius Randle dropped just 33.8 percent of his shots against the Cavs, but he was playing on a hurt ankle. Not dealing with pain, he’ll be an accurate finisher on rim attacks and quicker to snag rebounds, attracting some of Cleveland’s focus away from glass fiend Mitchell Robinson.

Then there’s Jalen Brunson. For now, unless Caris LeVert turns into the Minister of Defense Michael Cooper of the Showtime Lakers, Brunson can get anywhere against Cleveland’s perimeter players.

New York avenges its Halloween defeat.

Indiana Pacers (In-Season Tournament Game 1, away)

This could have the feel of a postseason game. The Pacers will try to exploit Cleveland’s backcourt and boat race the Cavaliers down the floor. In 2022-23, Indiana had the fifth-quickest pace of 30 teams. Brown and Toppin’s skill sets give the Pacers additional break threats. With Brown, he is an option who can score 15 points a night without a play designed. Toppin could look like the NBA equivalent of a wideout catching passes from Haliburton.

But I anticipate the Cavaliers, the slowest team last season, through strong rebounding and paint protection, to successfully counter the Pacers’ style for Cleveland’s first road win of the year.

Golden State Warriors (home)

With Chris Paul in the rotation for the Warriors instead of Jordan Poole, it will be a much slower halfcourt group, and he must be targeted on the other end. When Draymond Green is on the floor, his defender can sag off to trap the pass onto other Warriors.

The most important task will be protecting the three-point line. Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry finished first and third last season in made triples, so unnecessarily, giving them space when the ball is on the other side is cause for benching a Cavalier. If the main Warriors are healthy, there will not likely be much 2-3 zone actions used.

To get Mobley free from Green, Cleveland might have to go to the DHO sets with Garland or Mitchell to attract help and open up a vertical avenue.

I have the Cavaliers winning this game.