Let ‘Em Know: A Cavs playoff preview


Courtesy of Joshua Gunter/cleveland.com

Center Jarrett Allen, guard Caris LeVert and forward Evan Mobley (left to right) have all had standout seasons and helped the Cavs cinch a playoffs spot.

Nicholas Crane, Contributing Writer

The Cleveland Cavaliers have a storied history in the NBA playoffs, having made 23 appearances in the postseason since the team’s inception in 1970. In recent years, however, the Cavs have struggled to maintain the level of success they enjoyed during the legendary LeBron James era, with the team missing the playoffs in each of their last four seasons. But this year, for the first time since the 1997-98 season, the Cleveland Cavaliers will be headed to the postseason without James on their roster. With their 108-91 win over the Houston Rockets on March 26, Cleveland officially clinched a postseason berth, their first since the 2017-18 campaign.

This playoff run will look and feel a little different for Cavs fans. The familiar faces of their most recent playoff runs–Lebron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson—that brought a championship back to Cleveland, are gone. Instead, the Cavs boast an exciting crop of new talent and potential that has galvanized the city and brought the Cavs back to relevancy. 

With the regular season having ended this past Sunday, the Cavs 51-31 regular season record ranked them at fourth in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs won two of their last three games despite a final loss against the Hornets. Securing home court advantage was key for the Cavs who were dominant at home (31-10) but struggled on the road (20-21). While the team is still relatively inexperienced compared to some of the other playoff contenders, the Cavs have shown flashes of brilliance throughout the year and have the potential to make some noise in the postseason.

Their opponent will be the New York Knicks, a team that gave the Cavs trouble this season and beat them in 3 out of 4 matchups. The final matchup was on March 31, which was a 130-116 Knicks win with 48 points from their star point guard, Jalen Brunson. In addition to Brunson, the Cavs’ must also be wary of All-Star forward Julius Randle, averaging 25.1 points and 10 rebounds per game; guard RJ Barrett, averaging 19.6 points and 5 rebounds per game; guard Immanuel Quickley, the leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year; center Mitchell Robinson, elite shot blocker and rim protector; as well as guard Quentin Grimes and guard Josh Hart.

It is no secret that regular season success does not necessarily translate to a deep playoff run, but if the Cavs want to make it past the first round, they are going to need an answer for stopping Brunson and Randle, specifically. Brunson’s talents were on full display at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on March 31, but some could argue Randle has been the better player of the two this season. Having arguably the best season of his career, Randle recently set a career-high in points, dropping 57 points in a loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 20. However, Randle sat out with an injury in the most recent matchup versus the Cavs and is expected to sit out at least two weeks with a left ankle sprain. His playoff status is uncertain. 

The Cavs’ elite perimeter defender, Isaac Okoro, and two-way big man, Jarrett Allen, both missed the most recent Knicks game as well, and their absences definitely showed. With those two returning to the lineup, the Cavs are definitely a top defensive team in the NBA. They will need these two players healthy to stop Brunson, Randle and the Knicks as a whole.

While there is plenty of ability up and down the Cavs lineup, Donovan Mitchell has been the go-to guy. Acquired from the Utah Jazz this past offseason, Mitchell has more than lived up to everyone’s expectations. Averaging 28.3 points per game and a little over 4 assists and 4 rebounds, he has been the superstar the Cavs desperately needed to take them back to the playoffs. His incredible season, highlighted by a 71-point outburst on Jan. 2 in a win against the Bulls, have made the Cavaliers a feared opponent heading into the playoffs. The upcoming series against New York will bring Mitchell full circle with Knicks fans. On the trade block this past summer, the Knicks were viewed as the heavy favorite to acquire Mitchell. However, the deal between the Jazz and Knicks never came to fruition, opening the door for the Cavs. Given the year he’s had, Cavs fans sure are grateful that it worked out the way that it did. If Mitchell can continue his success in the playoffs and eliminate the Knicks, it will certainly be a tough pill to swallow for their fanbase, who has been desperately awaiting a star of his caliber for years. 

When asked about the series, Mitchell responded, “It’s full circle.You wouldn’t want it any other way. What kid wouldn’t want to play against his hometown team in the playoffs?” 

For the Cavs, it would take a complete playoff disaster for this season not to be considered a success. The jump the team has made this season has been remarkable, introducing what should be a competitive roster for years to come. A deep playoff run is a feasible goal, something Cleveland grew accustomed to in the last decade. They will begin their playoff journey against the Knicks at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on April 15 at 6 p.m.