On Wednesday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers were rolling into their game against the Miami Heat. Cleveland had won four straight games, and on Tuesday night, they showed resolve in landing an overtime win at the Philadelphia 76ers, to keep themselves alive in the NBA In-Season Tournament.
Unfortunately, Wednesday night was not one where the Cavaliers had it. The Heat jumped out early on, and going into halftime, Miami held a 17-point lead over Cleveland.
The Wine and Gold did show some signs of life in the second and third quarters, as players such as Darius Garland, Max Strus and Evan Mobley made plays, and Craig Porter Jr. had some splash plays on defense, but Wednesday's game was hardly the result anybody was looking for.
Ultimately, the Cavs would suffer by far and away their worst loss of the season to this point now 15 games in, as the Heat had a wire-to-wire W 129-96. It was not how Cleveland would've wanted to begin a five-game homestand, to say the least.
Turnovers, Kyle Lowry and the Heat splashing so many deep attempts, and the Cavaliers seeming out of sorts on offense, partially to Miami zoning up at times, all eventually led to a forgettable game for Cleveland. Obviously, this past one for the Cavaliers was a stinker.
That being said, with that being the second night of a back-to-back, and Cleveland's third game in four nights, it was not a game one should put tons of stock into. The Cavs got obliterated, but they had just rattled off four consecutive wins, and wins over the Denver Nuggets and 76ers were very impressive ones, and as both have gotten more comfortable recently, it's been great to see Garland and Mobley seemingly hit their stride.
That last loss to the Heat was ugly, but the Cavs are coming along, and Garland and Mobley are finding their rhythm.
That loss to the Heat, who were without Bam Adebayo, was a bad one for the Cavaliers. Miami was continually getting into the lane, penetrating and then kicking out, where they were nailing threes.
Whenever the Cavs appeared to generate a bit of momentum, the Heat would quickly answer with hot shooting, or were benefiting from Cleveland’s giveaways. Although Porter and company did some good things with ball movement, it was still a far too sloppy game for Cleveland, even with Donovan Mitchell sidelined.
However, although it’s never going to be an excuse, given the circumstances, one shouldn’t read a ton into that Wednesday loss for the Cavaliers. Cleveland still had won their last four games, including those two over two of the league’s top teams in Denver and Philadelphia. And while the Sixers defense hounded the short-handed Cavaliers in the second half, the Wine and Gold did still make some crucial plays down the stretch to hang in there, and eventually prevail in overtime.
To those points, the Cavs had been getting back to their formula in recent games with often good defense and timely shooting, and it was encouraging to watch Garland and Mobley as catalysts.
In Garland’s last five games, he’s posted averages of 23.2 points and 5.2 assists, and has made plays getting downhill, off-ball and as a deep shooting presence.
There still have been some turnovers that have been head-scratching from him, but Garland seems to be establishing his rhythm after prior early-season struggles coming off injury. That from him has to continue when the Cavs get Mitchell, among others, back.
In addition to Garland looking more like himself recently, Mobley has kept on chugging along, that Miami game for Cleveland aside. In Mobley's last seven games, he's had splits of 17.3 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.0 blocks per contest, and has connected on 65.3 percent of his shot attempts.
Mobley has shown a much more consistent level of assertiveness as an interior threat this season, and despite his lack of three-point threat, he's getting quality looks inside, and his improved strength has led to him punishing defenders near the rim. He's demonstrated much more willingness to take on contact, and with that in mind, him showing more creativity as a driver, and Mobley's playmaking improvements, he looks to be leveling up on that end.
Despite the lack of deep shooting progression, with Mobley's cutting feel, finishing and on-ball strides, to go with the playmaking and his already elite defense, he's been one of the big reasons for Cleveland's better play of late. And as the season wears on, Mobley should be all the more confident.
The Cavs have to move on from that ugly loss to the Heat, but they've been coming along, and Garland and Mobley should continue to lead the way.