The Cleveland Cavaliers have rarely had any good news this season as injuries have halted any real momentum the team has tried to build this season.
When both Darius Garland and Evan Mobley were announced to miss multiple weeks with injuries, the Cavaliers looked like a team one bad stretch away from falling apart. Donovan Mitchell trade rumors surfaced near instantaneously, and everybody was ready to wave this season off as a failure - except the Cavs.
Maybe the best example of Cleveland's grit and determination came against the Dallas Mavericks when the Cavs took over the second half in Dallas, completing a 20-point comeback to reclaim the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference over the New York Knicks. Jarrett Allen nearly reached a career high in rebounds, finishing the night with 24 points and 23 boards to help the Cavaliers' frontcourt maintain without Mobley.
The Cavaliers are defying expectations
Somehow, the Cavaliers are not only surviving without their three best players, they are rising in the standings. At the start of the season, Cleveland's depth was undoubtedly better than a year prior. To overcome these obstacles, though, has been miraculous. Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff is showing a willingness to overhaul his entire offensive system in favor of a free-flowing style with seamless set plays. With an 18-13 record, the Cavaliers have clawed out of the Play-In Tournament and into playoff contention.
Without Garland and Mobley, Cleveland sits 5-1 (including 3-1 without Donovan Mitchell). The entire offensive scheme shifted to a next-man-up mindset, swinging the ball around the perimeter and kicking out of drives until the defense scattered and allowed for an easy basket. On the season, the Cavaliers sit twelfth in the NBA for 3-pointers made, but they are first overall in the last six games since Garland and Mobley went down, connecting on 38.1 percent of their 45.5 attempts per game.
Not only have the Cavaliers shot the lights out from deep, they are relying on a balanced attack, going even deeper into their bench than they had with a mostly healthy team. Two-way rookie Emoni Bates has appeared in each of the Cavs' last three games after nearly a month without touching the court.
In this prolonged absence, the Cavaliers have not won due to random chance. They have gratefully had an easier stretch than earlier in the season, but their recent successes have been thanks to a number of players taking it upon themselves to step up and lead Cleveland.