On Wednesday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers were back in game action, and in a game when it counted. The Wine and Gold are looking to build on their success from last season, when they won 51 regular season games, before ultimately falling short in the playoffs and losing in five games in the first round to the New York Knicks.
Cleveland has a group that should be better off this season, following a successful offseason, on the plus side, and it’s finally time to be fully locked into the new campaign.
With that in mind, it was encouraging to watch the Cavaliers have a solid performance on Wednesday in the 2023-24 season opener at the Brooklyn Nets. The Wine and Gold prevailed in that contest in a close one.
In what was a bit of a wild outing with each team getting up and down, Cleveland came out on top 114-113 after a Donovan Mitchell made three with 12.1 seconds left, and the Cavaliers were able to get a stop to close things out.
Cleveland had 25 assists to only 10 turnovers, and while there were some head-scratching turnovers on occasion, the offensive movement led to plenty of quality looks, where they were able to often capitalize.
The Cavaliers canned 17 of their 43 three-point shot attempts, and most notably, were led by Max Strus. He tied an NBA record with seven three-pointers made in a players’ debut with a new team (via Cavs Notes). He added 12 big rebounds, too, and knocked it out of the park with his play.
Next up for the Cavs, they’ll be going against a young, up-and-coming Oklahoma City Thunder squad that seems primed to make some real noise in the Western Conference. They had their way in a 124-104 road win at the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday, and are seeking two road wins to begin the year.
Before getting into how the game could play out, first, here’s the injury report and then TV info for Friday’s contest.
Cavaliers: Jarrett Allen (out, ankle); Ricky Rubio (out, personal); Darius Garland (questionable, hamstring); Dean Wade (questionable, illness).
Thunder: Kenrich Williams (out, back); Jaylin Williams (out, hamstring).
This Cavaliers-Thunder game, which will tip off at 7:30 ET, can be seen on Bally Sports Ohio, Bally Sports Oklahoma, Bally Sports Southwest, Bally Sports Kansas City and Bally Sports Midwest. A streaming option will be NBA League Pass.
OKC is a team many seem to believe is poised to make significant strides this season, and with the young talent they have and the momentum they generated to close last season, they definitely could be ready to do so. Their 2023-24 season opener only added heat to that fire, too.
The Thunder have an emerging superstar in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is one of the best guards and bucket-getters in the Association. He’ll be a handful for opponents to contain this season and moving forward, and for Cleveland, they’ll probably mix some things up with who is assigned to him and their coverages. Rest assured, Isaac Okoro, whether or not he starts again (he did on Wednesday), will likely draw plenty of that assignment here.
As for the others, the likes of Jalen Williams and Josh Giddey are big-time playmakers and Williams, especially, is a well-versed creator in his own right. And the Thunder having Chet Holmgren back from injury gives them a stretch big who can make tons of things happen on both ends as well.
One would assume Mobley is matched up on Holmgren for a good chunk of this game, but perhaps Cleveland mixes in some of their zone looks here with Mobley and perimeter guys, such as Mitchell and Caris LeVert closing off passing lanes.
In this matchup, Allen being involved could’ve given the Cavaliers an advantage on the interior, however, he’ll be out again. Despite that, if the Cavs can have their movement throughout the game consistently here, and not get somewhat stagnant, as they were in the fourth quarter at the Nets, they can still have a good chance to win again.
Objectively, though, sans Allen here, and with how talented Giddey, SGA and Jalen Williams are as drivers and playmakers, this is going to be a difficult one to pull one out. Luguentz Dort is assuredly a tenacious defender who will make Cleveland’s perimeter guys work for everything in on-ball matchups if the Cavs are too iso-heavy at times as well.
Now, Darius Garland did play on Wednesday, and didn’t appear at all limited, but Dean Wade might miss this one, too, which is not something to gloss over defensively. With it all factored in, it’s reasonable to foresee OKC getting the dub here, in the first leg of the Cavs’ first back-to-back of 2023-24.
Prediction: Thunder 110, Cavs 105
Next, the Cavaliers will face the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night in the second leg of this opening home back-to-back.
Following that one, Cleveland will take on the New York Knicks on Halloween at home, and will play them again on Wednesday night in New York in a mini-series tilt. Clearly, the Cavaliers have to right the ship from here against the club that bounced them in just five games in the first round of the 2023 Playoffs.