Donovan Mitchell was the star of the show, dropping 29 points, two rebounds, five assists, and two steals while shooting 55% from the field and 45.5% from three-point range. Evan Mobley had a terrific all-round performance, recording 11 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and a block. Max Strus also had a strong outing, putting up 22 points, five rebounds, two assists, and two steals while shooting 6-for-10 from behind the arc.
Isaac Okoro and Caris Levert were great off the bench, combining for 27 points. Levert also added six rebounds and seven assists, giving him a well-rounded performance. As a team, the Cavs were amazing offensively. They had 36 assists compared to just eight turnovers and they shot a ludicrous 56.1% from three on 41 attempts. This combination of playmaking and long-distance shooting would make any team difficult to stop.
The Cavs have been on fire since December, winning 14 of the last 15 games as they’ve quietly risen to the second seed in the Eastern Conference behind the Boston Celtics. Here’s why they’ve been so dominant over the last month and whether or not they are a legitimate championship contender.
How the Cleveland Cavaliers dominated January
The Cavaliers have been a solid team for most of the season, going 18-14 from October to December, but they weren’t a juggernaut. They were quite good on defense, but their offense was lagging behind, keeping them from being an elite team. Everything changed once January arrived, though.
In the month of January, the Cavaliers decided to stop messing around and went 11-2. While they had been a solid team before this point, they quickly became a well-oiled machine that dominated opponents on both ends of the floor.
Last month, the Cavaliers averaged 120.2 points per game and allowed just 105.2 points per game, giving them an average margin of victory of 15 points. Across an entire season, this mark would rank first in the NBA.
A big reason why they performed at such a high level is because they were much better offensively. In January, their points per game jumped over six points from December and this happened because they were much better at putting the ball in the basket. This month, the Cavs shot 49.5% from the field and 38.4% from three-point range. This was the best shooting month they’ve had this season and it’s not close.
The Cavs also saw a massive improvement in their defensive output. In January, their points allowed per game dropped by just over seven points, and this improvement occurred for the same reasons their offense got better. This month, the team’s opponents shot just 44.9% from the field and 34.6% from behind the arc. Both marks were the best the Cavs have had in any month this season.
Another area in which the Cavs improved was their defensive rebounding. In January, they allowed just 8.8 offensive rebounds per game. They had the same mark in December, but this was a massive improvement from October and November.
Are the Cleveland Cavaliers a serious championship contender?
Now that the Cleveland Cavaliers have risen to the top of the Eastern Conference, it’s time to answer a big question: can this team win the championship?
There is certainly a lot to like about the Cavs. For starters, their defense is amazing, allowing just 111.1 points per 100 possessions, the second-best mark in the league behind the Minnesota Timberwolves. A big reason why their defense has been so good is because of their amazing frontcourt duo: Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen.
These two big men combine for just under 15 defensive rebounds and two blocks per game. On top of that, when they are on the court together, the Cavaliers allow just 108.9 points per 100 possessions, a hyper-elite mark. They are the engine of the Cavs’ elite defense.
Another reason to be optimistic about this team is the performance of their superstar guard Donovan Mitchell. The 27-year-old has been incredible this season, averaging around 28 points, five rebounds, six assists, and two steals per game on 59.5% true shooting. He has also taken a big step forward defensively and advanced defensive metrics indicate that he is having a positive impact on this end of the floor this season.
On top of this, the Cavs have a slew of quality role players who have been quite impactful this season like Max Strus, Caris Levert, Sam Merrill, and Dean Wade. All of this makes this team dangerous and a real threat to make a solid run in the playoffs. Unfortunately, they have real issues that keep them from being one of the favorites to win the title.
For starters, their offense is not particularly good. This season, they are averaging 116.3 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 16th in the league. Historically, championship-winning teams usually rank top ten in both offensive and defensive rating. The Cavs’ defense meets this criteria, but their offense falls well short.
Their offense lags behind their defense because they don’t shoot particularly well from three-point range, they turn the ball over at a fairly high rate, and they don’t get to the free-throw line very often. These are huge issues with their offense that limit their ability to be efficient on this end of the floor.
Another problem is their 24-year-old point guard Darius Garland. Garland looked like a star in the making last season, but he has taken a big step back this year. He’s not shooting very well from behind the arc, his passing numbers have gotten much worse, and he’s the worst defender in the Cavs’ starting lineup. If this team wants to make a deep run in the playoffs, they desperately need Garland to step up and help Donovan Mitchell run the offense at a high level.
While the Cleveland Cavaliers have a lot of clear strengths that make them a fantastic team, they also have some serious weaknesses that will likely limit how far they can go in the postseason. It’s hard to imagine this team making it past teams with strong defensive units that can take advantage of their average shooting and limited playmaking. Although this team has been fun to watch the last month of the season, it would be wise to temper your expectations for the Cavs as the playoffs approach.