Cleveland Cavaliers finally receive respect from national media after historic run

Cleveland Cavaliers v Toronto Raptors
Cleveland Cavaliers v Toronto Raptors / Mark Blinch/GettyImages

The Cleveland Cavaliers have defied all expectations, climbing to second place in the Eastern Conference amid constant injury woes and outside speculation regarding the team's future.

With Darius Garland and Evan Mobley back following prolonged injuries, the Cavaliers have maintained their prominence in the East with an 8-1 record in the nine games since both players returned. Two months ago, the Cavaliers were fighting just to stay out of the Play-In Tournament, but they quickly adapted their playstyle and struck gold with their stars and immense bench depth.

Over All-Star Weekend, superstar Donovan Mitchell represented the Cavs in the All-Star Game and the Starry 3-Point Contest. He was the sole representative for the squad, meaning the rest of the team had some extra rest to allow Garland and Mobley to recoup their energy for the final 29 games of the regular season. Garland and Mobley had played on a minutes restriction to manage their returns, but this will be lifted going forward.

The post-All-Star Weekend slate of games for the Cavs will not only feature more time for Garland and Mobley, but it will feature more time for Cleveland to make themselves seen nationally. The NBA updated its national TV schedule, giving the Cavaliers three more nationally televised games throughout the final stretch.

This updated schedule finally gives the Cavaliers the respect they have fought to earn all season. After last year's embarrassing playoff defeat, Cleveland was not considered too highly for the national spotlight. As they continue to surpass expectations and enter the conversation for true East contender, the NBA has seemingly taken notice.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are making history in 2024

Since the turn of the calendar year to 2024, the Cavaliers have the NBA's best record at 18-3. On February 6, Cleveland tied their best record over a 15-game span with a 14-1 record. It is the first time in franchise history it has happened without LeBron James. The Cavs won their next five games after this, holding a 19-1 record over 20 games.

The Cavaliers' historic run in January earned Mitchell the prestigious honor of January Eastern Conference Player of the Month, becoming the only player in team history other than LeBron to win the accolade. Throughout the first month of 2024, Mitchell averaged 28.6 points, 7.6 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 2.1 steals in 34.1 minutes per game. In only two years with the franchise, Donovan Mitchell has cemented himself as one of the greatest ever to play in Cleveland with his leadership and dominance.

Through December and January, Cavaliers star big man Jarrett Allen set a franchise record with 17 consecutive double-doubles. Every step along the way, the Cavaliers are challenging the preexisting reputation surrounding them. Evan Mobley returned from injury and instantly showed improved range, knocking down a perfect three-for-three from deep against superstar rookie Victor Wembanyama and the San Antonio Spurs.

As one of the smaller markets in the NBA, the Cavaliers are no strangers to having less attention on them unless they are making history. It is an unavoidable part of the NBA, but it has never stopped the Cavs from making waves regardless.

While the added national attention will help the rest of the Association see all that Cleveland is doing, the team's goals and focus cannot change. All of the Cavs' regular season accomplishments will be for naught if their postseason crumbles early again. If the playoffs began today, the Cavaliers would face either the Miami Heat or Orlando Magic in round one.

The Cavaliers need to disprove the current narrative surrounding them in the playoffs. A convincing first-round win would be a big step in the right direction, but it will not come for free. Winning these three national TV games is an early opportunity to make a statement, but the postseason is where it truly matters for Donovan Mitchell and every other Cavalier.

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