The Cleveland Cavaliers were booked. Barely clinging to a .500 record, the Cavaliers announced the sobering news that not one but two of their stars were going to miss significant time. Darius Garland was out weeks with a broken jaw, and Evan Mobley out up to two months with knee surgery.
The only good news from Monday was supposed to be that both players had successfull surgeries (which they did). Instead, the Cavaliers decided to redefine the narrative. On Saturday night they came out and absolutely clobbered the Atlanta Hawks, with Jarrett Allen dominating inside and Donovan Mitchell hitting everything, hanging on for an eight-point victory.
They followed that up with a more difficult foe on Monday night, but the result was the same, even if it took overtime to accomplish it. Mitchell again led the way, but eight other players scored in double figures, led by Sam Merrill scoring a career-best 19 points (more on him in a moment) as the Cavs won by five in overtime.
The vultures were circling the Cavs over the weekend. There were innumerable calls for the team to trade Donovan Mitchell, to pack it up and go home, to move off of veterans and prepare for next season. Two games doesn't necessarily change anything if you believe that Cleveland isn't going anywhere this season, but the players certainly aren't convinced.
Sam Merrill is breaking out
A year ago, we advocated for the Cavaliers to consider signing the sharpshooting Sam Merrill to an NBA contract. They listened, and Merrill hung around the team on a non-guaranteed contract the rest of last season and through the summer. If Cleveland hadn't been so close to the luxury tax he would probably have been cut in favor of a more proven player, but as it was his inexpensive salary carried him through.
Now, injuries have opened up an opportunity for him to play, and he is taking full advantage. He's shown up in brief moments earlier this year, such as in a short-handed loss to the Miami Heat in a back-to-back, but he had his biggest moment against the Rockets Monday night.
Merrill shot 3-for-6 in eight minutes on Saturday night against the Hawks, earning a spot in the regular rotation on Monday. He did not disappoint, going 5-for-10 from deep and adding a high-speed layup in overtime that proved to be the go-ahead basket. On the next possession he nailed a 3-pointer to turn a two-point lead into an unbreakable five-point lead.
Just as impressive as the shot-making was the opportunity: J.B. Bickerstaff trusted Merrill to be a part of the lineup in overtime as the Cavaliers went super-small with Isaac Okoro and Max Strus as the two forwards. Merrill was +13 in the five-point win. Between Merrill and Strus the Cavs can keep one movement shooter on the court at all times, and if Merrill can survive defensively his shot is as pure as anyone's in the league.
Draymond Green trade?
As the Cavaliers' future is up-in-the-air, the Golden State Warriors are all-the-more in a similar boat. Rather than injury, they lost a key player due to his own bad decisions, as Draymond Green is suspended indefinitely after his latest on-court outburst. That could mean the Warriors will consider trading Green and washing their hands of the headache.
If so, should the Cavaliers try to buy-low on Green? One popular sports site thought so, pitching a trade idea that would bring the four-time champion to Cleveland. We analyzed the deal for both sides and weighed in on whether the Cavs should pull the trigger in our latest in the "Grade the Trade" series.
Back in the playoffs
The Cavaliers aren't going to win every game with Garland and Mobley sidelined, but in winning two-straight after the news, they are not only rewriting the narrative but they are moving up in the standings. Losses by teams around them in the Eastern Conference standings has the Cavs now in sixth, above the Play-In Tournament cut line. They are just a half-game back of the New York Knicks and one win behind the Orlando Magic in fourth.
What to Read
There have been a number of excellent pieces written on the Cavs recently. Check some out:
- Caleb Crowley's weekly roundup points to sparks of hope in the midst of the injury news.
- Caleb also digs into a new mock draft that has an I-76 neighbor landing with the Cavaliers.
- Keith Smith of Spotrac is doing some of the best transactional work of anyone out there, and he discusses short-term options for the Cavs in the wake of the injury announcements.
- Could the Cavaliers trade Caris LeVert to upgrade at another position? If they want to shop the Sixth Man, here are 5 teams that could be interested in a deal.
- If the Cavaliers want to get drastic, here are a few moves they could consider.
The Cavaliers continue their homestand this week. Old friend Lauri Markkanen and the Utah Jazz come to town on Wednesday night, then Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans will be at Rocket Mortgage on Thursday night. From there it's a two-game road trip on either side of the Christmas holiday, with games in Chicago on Saturday and Dallas next Wednesday,
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