Cavaliers Preview: Evan Mobley makes anticipated return against Los Angeles Clippers

Nov 21, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Evan Mobley (4) before
Nov 21, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Evan Mobley (4) before / Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Cavaliers looked like dead men walking on December 15 when both Darius Garland and Evan Mobley were reported out of the lineup for extended time with injuries.

After exactly six weeks from the breaking news, Cleveland's homegrown star forward Evan Mobley is set to make his long-awaited return as the Cavaliers host the star-studded Los Angeles Clippers in Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. In the 18 games without Mobley and Garland, the Cavs had a shocking 14-4 record, setting them fourth in the Eastern Conference. After all hope seemed lost, the Cavaliers rallied and are now positioned for a strong second half of the NBA season.

Before his injury, Mobley averaged 16 points and a career-high in both rebounds (10.5) and assists (2.9) per game. He also added 1.7 blocks each night, tying his rookie averages and the best of his three-year career. Appearing in wine and gold once again, Mobley still has plenty to prove this season after a stagnated offensive development to begin the year. The Clippers will be the perfect testing ground for Mobley's resilience and fortitude.

How the Cavaliers stack up against the Los Angeles Clippers

Entering the match, the Clippers sit third in the Western Conference with three more wins than the Cavaliers in one more game played. Los Angeles most recently ousted the Boston Celtics in a 115-96 win on Saturday. Kawhi Leonard led the game with 26 points and 7 rebounds, followed by Daniel Theis' 18 points.

The Cavaliers return home after splitting a two-game miniseries in Milwaukee. After falling 126-116 to the Bucks in the first game, Cleveland responded with a ferocious defensive effort in their 112-100 victory. This was the Bucks' third-lowest scoring performance on the season. Their lowest point total was 95 in Cleveland earlier this month.

Through January, both squads have a top-10 defensive rating, with the Clippers' 114.2 ranked ninth, and the Cavaliers' 104.2 ranked second (0.1 below the leading New York Knicks). Offensively, the Clippers lead the league this month with a 125.5 offensive rating while the Cavaliers sit at sixth place with a 120.4 rating. Considering these stats alone, the game should be a brutal showdown of two teams playing their best basketball of the season.

After struggling to find the right fit for star guard James Harden following an early trade with the Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles has gone 8-2 in their last 10 games. Given LAC's list of All-Star veteran players, the Cavaliers' chances of an easy victory are slim to none. Leonard is in the midst of his healthiest season during his Clippers tenure and has looked dominant every night. The Cavs are still without Garland and will be attempting to reinsert Mobley into an offensive scheme that has vastly changed since his exit.

Where the Cavaliers find their edge against the Clippers is in rebounding and second-chance points. During January, the Cavs sit third in the Association for rebounds at 48.1 per game, and the Clippers are in the lower half at 17 with 42.2 boards per game. Cleveland's advantage grows more with second-chance points, averaging 16.1 per game for fifth best in the NBA this month. Conversely, Los Angeles is twenty-first, averaging only 12.5 second-chance points.

Adding Evan Mobley back into the lineup will only amplify the Cavs' rebounding prowess against the Clippers. Both Mobley and Jarrett Allen are averaging double digits in this category, and Allen is on a franchise-best stretch with 14 consecutive games recording a double-double. If the Cavaliers maintain their intensity on defense and follow up by crashing the boards, they will have a strong chance for another crucial win as they battle for positioning in the crowded East.

Admittedly, the Clippers will have an advantage as the Cavaliers may look disjointed when trying to add Mobley back into the fold. The Clippers are healthy and on a roll, making Mobley's return possibly easy to spoil. Mobley will also be on a minutes restriction for some time, meaning the Clippers may take advantage of the minutes he is on the bench. Thankfully for the Cavs, though, Mobley's defensive intelligence will likely cover what offensive confusion and limitations he shows.

In the end, the Cleveland Cavaliers need to enter the game prepared for a slugfest and cannot take their recent surge for granted. While Evan Mobley will add to Cleveland's arsenal, there is no guarantee he will be as efficient or dominant in his first game back.

The Cavaliers will tip off with the Clippers at 7:00 pm Eastern Time. Fans will be able to watch on Bally Sports Ohio, Bally Sports SoCal and NBA League Pass.

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