The Cleveland Cavaliers ended their fifth week of regular season action 2-2 with an overall record of 9-8, putting them ninth in the Eastern Conference.
Being in the Play-In mix is far below the standards the Cavaliers had entering this season. After an exciting four-game win streak and two major wins against the Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers, the Cavs were blown out by the Miami Heat and lost a close game against the Los Angeles Lakers in two consecutive home games.
Through 17 matches, the 2023-24 campaign has yet to steady for Cleveland, but as injuries begin to subside, they may be able to find the light at the end of the tunnel. While they faced adversity against the Heat and Lakers, the Cavs were finally healthy entering their home contest against the Toronto Raptors on the second night of a back-to-back. Ending the game with a 105-102 win, Cleveland finally found their stride in a close match.
So far this season, the Cavaliers are twenty-third in offensive rating in clutch moments, per NBA.com. At the start of the regular season, the Cavs knew they needed to diversify their offensive approach in order to compete at the highest level. While their offensive ball movement and gameplan has been much improved this year, their schemes in crunch time are often no more than isolation possessions ending in a contested shot attempt.
The Cavaliers are not hopeless, though. Cleveland searched for improved outside shooting this offseason, and they undoubtedly found that in Max Strus and Georges Niang. The Cavs are not the top 3-point shooting team in the league by any means, but their floor spacing has allowed them to open up more opportunities inside, and they are making the most of it. Through 17 games, the Cavs are shooting 54.4 percent on 2-point attempts, placing them seventh in the NBA.
With two non-shooting big men in the starting lineup, opening up the post will be invaluable for the Cavaliers. The team stats will not be awe inspiring until the team can remain healthy, but Cleveland's interior presence is embarrassing defenses every night. Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen have one of the best (if not the best) chemistries of any frontcourt in the Association.
Where do the Cleveland Cavaliers go now?
The next step in recovering a slow season is health. Availability is the best ability, but many NBA teams could not get their guys on the court to start. Thus far, it has been the healthiest teams winning the most games. The Cavaliers are healthier than they were to start the season, and their best chances at finding success is staying that way. It is not a deep, shocking analysis, but right now it really is that simple for Cleveland. They cannot know where they stack up in the East until then.
Another point of contention this season has been the coaching chops of J.B. Bickerstaff. After being entirely humiliated by the New York Knicks in the playoffs, NBA fans have speculated that Bickerstaff will be on the hot seat all year. If the Cavs fail in the postseason again, fans expect Bickerstaff is out.
So far, though, Bickerstaff has been a competent offensive coordinator. There is no doubt that he is a good defensive coach. He brings out the best in everybody on that side of the ball, even if the Cavs have taken a dip in that this year due to injuries. Offensively, Bickerstaff is implementing sets that utilize the floor spacing on the wing and the playmaking talent in the frontcourt.
Admittedly, crunch time possessions are still an issue for Cleveland, and Bickerstaff's choices in those moments are still in desperate need of improvement. For now, Bickerstaff has been better and deserves the recognition. With health finally on Cleveland's side, his true ceiling at his position will be seen.
As for the players, plenty of Cavaliers have looked great in both wins and losses. These three Cavs were difference makers this week.