How the Cleveland Cavaliers compare to conference rivals post All-Star Break

Philadelphia 76ers v Cleveland Cavaliers
Philadelphia 76ers v Cleveland Cavaliers / Jason Miller/GettyImages
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Cavaliers Rival No. 3 - Milwaukee Bucks

In truth, the Milwaukee Bucks are a confusing enigma this season. Under former head coach Adrian Griffin, the Bucks had a top-10 offense but a struggling defense. After replacing Griffin with 3-1 lead-losing expert Doc Rivers, the Bucks are 3-7 with a better defense but significantly worse offense, and Rivers is already blaming everybody but himself. It takes more effort to have a bad offense with the star power of Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo than it does to have a great one.

The matchup between the Bucks and Cavaliers would come down to which team is hitting their stride and which one is plateauing. Milwaukee has the best player in the series with the Greek Freak, but the second-best is a close race between Spida and Dame Time. Third best and onward might go exclusively to Cavs players for some time considering how Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez have begun showing their age.

If Rivers can unlock the best of this new-look Bucks squad by the time they face the Cavs, betting against a healthy Giannis is typically a great way to look stupid. If Mike Budenholzer were still steering the ship in Milwaukee, the Cavaliers likely would not even have the second seed in the East and would have no chance to beat this team. Given Milwaukee's lacking depth and scrambling coaching staff, the series is almost entirely even. It could easily go all seven games and be one of the most thrilling series of the postseason.

Overall, the Cavaliers again have the advantage due to the Bucks' depth and coaching dramatics. These are the two aspects of Cleveland's club that have improved the most this year. Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff is putting together another season worthy of Coach of the Year consideration, and they have been able to trust in a 10-to-11-man rotation in numerous wins this season. The Cavaliers could have an answer for everything the Bucks throw at them with a phenomenal frontcourt and star power of their own on offense.

Cavaliers Rival No. 4 - Boston Celtics

There is little to say about the Boston Celtics other than they should be the favorites to come out of the East. They won their first 20 games in TD Garden this season, only finally falling short to the reigning champions in the Denver Nuggets.

Out of the rest of the Eastern Conference, the Cavaliers could probably give the Celtics the best fight. Evan Mobley has the versatility to guard either Kristaps Porzingis or Jayson Tatum anywhere on the floor, and Jarrett Allen could roam in the paint to thwart any drives. On the other side, Boston has the Association's best defensive backcourt by a mile. Every basket scored for Mitchell and Garland will be contested.

A series between the Cavs and Celtics has the potential to be the lowest-scoring series of the postseason, given both squad's defense-first approach. The best chance for the Cavaliers to overthrow the league's best team is to hope they can force enough bad three-pointers for four games. The Celtics live by the three-point shot, meaning they also die by it. Boston averages a league-leading 42.7 three-pointers per game and makes 38 percent of them, good for the sixth-best conversion rate.

The Cavaliers have risen the ranks this season in long-range shooting but are still outside of Boston's realm. Luckily for Cleveland, meeting the Celtics in the playoffs would only happen in the Eastern Conference Finals if the top standings remain the same going forward. If the Cavaliers lose to the favorite team to reach the Finals, it would be a successful season nonetheless. It would remove Cleveland's stain from last year and would be a pivotal piece in convincing Mitchell to sign an extension to help the Cavs start an ideal offseason.

In all, the Cleveland Cavaliers will have to stomach some heavy blows this postseason if they want to prove themselves. They will not exit without bruises and blood. Still, they look much more prepared for the postseason thanks to both their offseason changes and their in-house development. While they would not be favored in every matchup, Cleveland is nearing the postseason with much more reason to feel confident in their chances against anybody this year.

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