The Cleveland Cavaliers have had a chance to catch their breath. The addition of the In-Season Tournament has provided a gap in the schedule for the 22 teams not competing in the Knockout Stage. The Cavs played on Saturday, a 110-101 victory over the Detroit Pistons, and then got three full days off before playing Wednesday at home against the Orlando Magic. All 22 teams got the same three days off as the quarterfinals play out.
That rest is a valuable commodity, but a lack of games also gives room for questions to bounce around the echo chamber. Instead of asking about this play or that rotational decision, everyone around the Cavaliers organization from players to media is asking bigger-picture questions: why have the Cavs struggled out of the gates, did they make the right offseason moves, do they need to make a big trade?
The Cavaliers have a ready excuse
The answer everyone in the organization is providing is simple: this team hasn't been healthy. When they have their full complement of players they have been and project to be quite dangerous, but start taking away key pieces and the building falls apart. Here's Georges Niang giving a version of that answer:
Niang isn't wrong; this group hasn't been able to gain much consistency due to the frequent absences, and they should improve their chemistry as the season goes on. The injuries have made a significant and negative impact on their ability to win basketball games.
At the same time, the Cavs are hardly the only team dealing with injuries. In the Eastern Conference alone, the Orlando Magic just won nine-straight games missing two starters; the Milwaukee Bucks haven't had a healthy Khris Middleton in many of their games; Kristaps Porzingis has been in-and-out of the Boston Celtics' lineup; the Miami Heat have been missing multiple starters in nearly every game they have played. All but the Heat have a better record than Cleveland (Miami is also 11-9).
Cleveland has to find a way to win despite the injuries. The chemistry excuse can be both true (the Cavs do need to build chemistry with their new players) and a minor thing; the Cavaliers added a few new players but maintained their core, so their chemistry-building learning curve is much softer than many teams.
The Cavs should play better moving forward. They should be healthier. They also will need to shed the excuses and provide real answers to hard questions if they don't climb up the standings.
Cleveland Cavaliers Injury Report
The extra days off should help the Cavaliers get healthier, and Dean Wade practiced on Monday as he worked his way back from an ankle injury. Wade is the closest thing the Cavs have to a 3-and-D forward and Cleveland found a lot of success inserting him into the starting lineup. Getting him back, whether it's against Orlando on Wednesday or in the near future, will be a boon to their rotation.
The other key player dealing with an injury is Caris LeVert, who missed Cleveland's win in Detroit with a knee injury. LeVert also missed time earlier in the season with this same knee, and it's unclear how long the injury will linger. He did not practice on Monday, per Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor.
The Cavaliers were aggressive this offseason in building up the roster around their core, targeting shooters at multiple positions to give the offense an element it lacked. In doing so, they also made a commitment to their core players and to their head coach, to give that collective group another swing.
20 games in, with nine losses and plenty of excuses at the ready, do the Cavaliers have any offseason regrets? We take a look at three moves this franchise may regret already given the rocky start to the season.
What to Read
- Caleb Crowley took his weekly look at the Cavaliers on Monday, analyzing J.B. Bickerstaff's coaching thus far and awarding his crowns for the week.
- Our newest writer Roger Straz took a look at Bickerstaff as well, but his conclusions were different than consensus.
- December 15th is a key date on the NBA calendar as players who signed in free agency beome eligible to be traded. That traditionally "kicks off" the in-season trade season. Which Cavaliers trade targets will come available on the 15th?
- Speaking of trades, could the Cavaliers make an offer for a Utah Jazz big man?
The Cavaliers will host the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night in the first of their two newly-added games during "In-Season Tournament" week. They then head down to Miami to play the Heat on Friday night.
Meanwhile, the In-Season Tournament continues on Tuesday night with the Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks battling to join the Indiana Pacers and New Orleans Pelicans in Las Vegas for Thursday's semifinals.