The Cleveland Cavaliers finished their eighth week of regular season action with a 127-119 home victory against the Atlanta Hawks one day after receiving heartbreaking injury news.
Since opening night of the 2023-24 NBA season, the Cavaliers have underwent a seemingly endless span of bad injury news for both their starting lineup and bench unit. There has not been a full week of Cavaliers basketball with a consistent lineup available. Week eight, though, ended with the worst news yet - Darius Garland and Evan Mobley will miss at least 4 and 6-8 weeks, respectively.
When it was announced Mobley would need surgery on his left knee, he had already missed four games. For Garland, the news came one day after two harrowing consecutive losses to the Boston Celtics. The young star guard's jaw fractured in a no-call collision with Celtics big man Kristaps Porzingis.
In four games over the past week, Cleveland went 1-3, losing to the Magic once and the Celtics twice. All three games were part of a brutal four-game road trip, including a back-to-back from Orlando to Boston. Throughout their four games, the Cavaliers hovered in the middle of the NBA for both offensive and defensive rating.
One factor that stands out most in Cleveland's losses was an unfortunate free throw disparity, a trend that has consisted all year. Over the last four games, the Cavs ranked 27th in the league for free throws attempted with only 18.5 per game. In their first game against the Celtics, Cleveland only shot nine times from the charity stripe. Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff lamented the differential, saying there is "no explanation" the Celtics shot 26 free throws and said there is "no way to guard the free throw line."
Outside of lackluster free throws, the Cavs' greatest weakness has been their inconsistency. Although they lost more than they won, they had a spirit and desire to win every game, a positive sign for a team that seems to be on the brink of failure some nights. Regardless of injuries or losses, the Cavaliers had a significantly more consistent week with a roster full of energy.
Cleveland's first half numbers were all higher than their season averages, ranking seventh in the NBA in their last four games in first quarter points scored (31.3) and 11th in first half team plus-minus (2.8). Their season first half plus-minus has only been 0.8, an area in desperate need of improvement.
The time for excuses is over, and the Cleveland Cavaliers know that.
Cleveland's homecoming game after their road trip arrived with a dim, uninspiring proverbial cloud over Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. On a three-game losing streak and barely a full day to process two extended injuries, the Cavaliers fanbase remained hopeful yet cautious.
The Cavaliers' season has not gone the way they would have wanted, and the players are not afraid to admit it. With so many drawbacks this now-past week, the Cavaliers entered the night with every reason to fall flat and slide in the standings. Instead, the entire team pushed forward and stifled everything the Hawks threw at them, earning a statement win against a conference rival.
In total, six Cavaliers scored double digits in the win, with Jarrett Allen (25) and Donovan Mitchell (22) leading the charge. Additionally, four of Cleveland's starters scored at least 15 points, making a balanced gameplan flourish at home.
Jarrett Allen opened the game with a perfect first quarter and gave the Cavaliers a quick 17 points and 3 rebounds, the most points in a quarter for Allen this season. Allen ended the night with 25 points and 14 rebounds alongside one block and two steals in 35 minutes of action.
As for Mitchell, the All-NBA guard added a career-high 13 assists with only one turnover, a tremendous performance as he stepped into the point guard role in place of Garland. While Mitchell's long-term future in Cleveland is uncertain and could seemingly be in jeopardy if the Cavs' season goes south, Spida was fully focused on making winning and unselfish plays.
Isaac Okoro had his best night of the season, notching 18 points and 3-of-4 3-pointers made, only another example of the improvement as a floor spacer the young wing has made this year. With a career-high 38.9 percent from deep this season, Okoro has shown the determined personality that drew the Cavs to the Auburn forward in the 2020 NBA Draft.
The second forward, Dean Wade, also served a barrage of 3-pointers, draining 4-of-7 attempts from deep. Wade has started in 12 of his 19 games this season, averaging 5.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals. His 3-point shot has shown inconsistencies some nights, but Wade has steadily improved on that end and is becoming one of the Cleveland's most reliable floor spacers.
Continuing with the second game of their four-game homestand, the Cleveland Cavaliers host the Houston Rockets next on Monday at 7:00pm Eastern Time. The Rockets (13-9) and the New Orleans Pelicans (16-11) will be the only two above .500 teams the Cavs face over the next week. With the Cavaliers looking to capture some momentum and hope without Garland and Mobley, this next week of basketball will be a critical opportunity to reclaim their prowess from a year ago.