Cleveland Cavaliers Poised For Success in 2023 NBA Playoffs

The Cleveland Cavaliers look to make some noise in the playoffs as they begin their first round series with the New York Knicks this weekend. The team only made the play-in round last season, so it will be the Cavs’ first playoff series since they lost to the Golden State Warriors in the 2018 Finals. It is also the first playoff series the team will play without LeBron James since 1998 — proving that Cleveland has entered a new era of quality basketball.

The Cavs locked up the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, compiling a 51–31 record and finishing with the best defensive rating in the league. The team picked up a number of quality wins during the regular season including three overtime victories over the Boston Celtics — the second seed in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs found success through a balanced lineup that leans on four standout starters.

The most notable player for the Cavs is guard Donovan Mitchell, who may have had the best season in team history by someone not named LeBron James. Mitchell averaged a team-leading 28.3 points per game in his first year in Cleveland after getting traded from the Utah Jazz in September. Mitchell was consistent, but also had a number of standout individual performances. He had 13 games in which he scored 40 points or more, including a single game franchise-record 71. In many of the Cavs’ wins this year, Mitchell showed an ability to take over games in the fourth quarter and play much bigger than his 6 foot 1 inch frame, finding ways to score from beyond the arc and inside the paint. While Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff will lean on Mitchell — who will be playing in his sixth straight playoffs — to lead the team; he will have a very good supporting cast to help him.

Guard Darius Garland was the heart and soul of last year’s Cavs team, but he has adjusted to playing with Mitchell swiftly. He put up 21.6 points per game and a team-leading 7.8 assists and shot 41 percent from three — the best mark of his career. Like Mitchell, Garland has the ability to score at the rim, but his passing also makes him dangerous. Look for the 23-year-old to make his mark in his first career playoff series. Forward Evan Mobley — an NBA Defensive Player of the Year candidate — is already making a name for himself as a 21-year-old in his second NBA season. Mobley, who stands at 6 foot 11 inches, has a ton of athleticism and smart footwork which allows him to be highly impactful on both ends of the floor. While he shines on defense, grabbing rebounds and blocking shots, he also has an ability to go off on  offense. Mobley averaged 16.2 points per game and most notably put up a career high 38 points in a victory over the Eastern Conference first seed Milwaukee Bucks Jan. 21.

Alongside Mitchell, Jarrett Allen is the only other Cavs starter with playoff series experience as he appeared in the 2019 and 2020 NBA Playoffs with the Brooklyn Nets. He is similar to Mobley with his ability to make an impact on offense and defense but he makes his home closer to the rim. A true center, Allen was the team’s leading rebounder and shooting percentage leader, scoring most of his points on dunks and layups. Allen will want redemption after his last season when he missed time with a hand injury and was not in full form for the play-in games.

While Mitchell, Garland, Mobley, and Allen are Cleveland’s stars, a number of other players will have an opportunity to make an impact. Defensive specialist forward Isaac Okoro will likely round out Bickerstaff ’s starting five and will look to continue making life hard for the opponent’s scorers. Guard Caris LeVert — who has had an up and down season — has the ability to score in bunches and will look to get hot on offense coming off the bench. Veteran guard Ricky Rubio can also make an impact with his in-game smarts and ability to share the ball while Garland gets some rest.

The Cavs will look to get some redemption on the Knicks in the first round after going 1–3 against them in the regular season. Like Cleveland, New York has a very balanced roster and is led by forward Julius Randle and guard Jalen Brunson who each average at least 24 points per game. Guard RJ Barrett, who averages 19.6 per game, will also be a player the Cavs will need to keep in check. Cleveland will look to defend its home court when the series begins tomorrow at 6 p.m. at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.