How the Cleveland Cavaliers stack up in the East after Week 3

Caris LeVert, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Caris LeVert, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /
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Since last Monday, the Cleveland Cavaliers embarked on a four-game Western road trip, splitting their two games this past week against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors.

Against the Thunder, the Cavs’ sloppy offense led to an onslaught of turnovers that allowed 30 extra points for OKC. Darius Garland alone had eight turnovers on the night, five of which came during the first quarter. From the onset, Cleveland looked disjointed and could not follow through on their improved offensive schemes. In too many instances, the Cavs could only execute two-thirds of their offensive plan, failing to find a second option or extra opportunity when the first fell apart.

OKC All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 43 points alongside 6 assists and a game-high 7 rebounds. In the battle of bigs, Chet Holmgren and Jarrett Allen went blow-for-blow, but Holmgren came out on top with 3 blocks and 7-of-10 shooting. In his pseudo-rookie season, Holmgren has outperformed Cleveland’s frontcourt in both contests. While much of this could be contributed to the Cavaliers’ unfortunate injuries this year, OKC has made the most of their advantages against Cleveland.

Following their fifth loss of the season, the Cleveland Cavaliers traveled to San Francisco to take on the Golden State Warriors for the second time this year. In their first match, the Cavaliers defended their homecourt, winning 115-104. On the road, Cleveland secured their first road win against the Warriors since 2014. No single player on the Cavs heroically led the squad to a win. Instead, Cleveland’s concentrated effort on both ends of the court forced the Warriors to allow 32 points off 20 turnovers and shoot a dismal 41.1 percent from the field.

A scuffle between Donovan Mitchell and Draymond Green halfway through the third quarter turned into Green’s first ejection of the 2023-24 season. The physical response to Green’s cheap shots highlighted Mitchell’s willingness to match dirty play with his own physicality. From then on, the Cavaliers expanded their lead until the final buzzer.

Nine games into the season, the Cavaliers are 4-5, placing them in the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference. In those nine games, Cleveland has not had all of their rotation players healthy once and did not have their starting roster available until November. A constant slate of injuries has stopped the Cavs from maintaining any real level of consistency thus far. They have yet to win two games in a row this season and have not had a winning record since winning their season opener in Brooklyn.

Last season, Cleveland’s worst issue was their shallow depth. In their road win against the Warriors, depth saved the Cavaliers. How, then, should Cleveland stack up against the nine teams ahead of them and five teams behind them going forward?

How can the Cleveland Cavaliers contend in the East?

As poorly as their season has begun, the Cavaliers’ offense has undoubtedly shown significant improvement. Cleveland’s newest wing Max Strus is instantly changing the Cavs offense with constant off-ball movement and selfless play. His athletic rebounding and unique playmaking provides Cleveland with a much-needed spark in a number of games.

Additionally, Isaac Okoro has seemed poised for a true breakout season before his injury. Moved from the starting five to the bench, Okoro is one of the primary second unit threats in Cleveland. Through six games played, Okoro is shooting 40 percent from 3-point range and grabbing a career high 4.8 rebounds per game. Further, Okoro is continuing his defensive versatility.

If the season ended today, the Cavs would have to battle their way through the Play-In Tournament to reach the playoffs; however, the expected top seed in the East still has plenty of upside over the next 73 games. Donovan Mitchell is entering his prime, improving his defense once again after already having his best defensive season last year. Turning into a true two-way threat is a welcome surprise for Cleveland’s backcourt.

The Cavaliers have one major setback right now – consistency. Perhaps this consistency will come to fruition once the roster is healthy. On offense, the Cavs are implementing numerous 4-out lineups, surrounding either Mobley or Allen with four shooters around the perimeter. The increased floor spacing allows for Okoro’s growth and a productive two-man combination between Max Strus and Evan Mobley.

All their sloppy turnovers are forced through a lack of repetition. When the team clicks, they look fantastic. In both games against the Warriors and their second game against the New York Knicks, the well-rounded depth and approach in Cleveland suggests the season will find a rhythm soon. Health is critical for consistency, and the Cavaliers just have not had that yet. As long as the starting roster can remain healthy and maintain until the bench rotation returns, the Cavaliers will eventually overcome their faults and reclaim a spot at the top of the Eastern Conference.

Finally, these Cavaliers provided the best performances in the first half of their westward conquest.