The Cavs earned the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference this season, and the bright side is that they will get two chances to win one game to make it into the postseason.
However, if the Cavs are able to beat the Nets on Tuesday, they will jump into the No. 7 seed and face the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.
Cleveland stumbled a bit in the second half of the season, as the team dealt with injuries to Darius Garland, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley and slipped out of a top-six spot in the East.
Despite that, the Cavs are still a dangerous team, and they are capable of beating the Nets in one game to pick up the No. 7 seed. It won’t be an easy task against the likes of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but there is a path for a Cleveland victory.
Allen’s won’t play in Tuesday’s game, which is a major blow to the Cavs, but it is not one they can’t overcome.
Cavaliers All-Star center Jarrett Allen is out for Play-In Tournament game vs. Nets on Tuesday night. Allen has been rehabbing a fractured left finger that he suffered March 6.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) April 11, 2022
Here are three keys for Cleveland to take down the Nets in the play-in tournament.
1. Exploit Brooklyn’s porous defense
The Nets have amazing offensive talent in Durant, Irving and Seth Curry, but they are severely lacking on the defensive side of the ball.
The Nets are 20th in the NBA in defensive rating this season, and they allow 112.3 points per game. The Cavs aren’t the most lethal offensive team, but this should be an exploitable matchup.
Even though Curry is a great shooter, he can be attacked on defense because of his size. The Cavs can try to run post-ups for Caris LeVert or even get Darius Garland switched on him to attack the mismatch.
In addition to that, the Cavs can spread the floor with Lauri Markkanen, Kevin Love and even Evan Mobley to get Andre Drummond out of the paint and his comfort zone on defense.
Markkanen shot 35.8 percent from beyond the arc in the regular season, and Love was even better, shooting 39.2 percent from deep. Both of those players are a mismatch for Drummond, so if the Cavs don’t have Allen and go small, this could be a way to take advantage.
Mobley is also an interesting case, as he could draw Drummond away from the hoop and force the Nets to play Garland and LeVert straight up with less help defense behind them.
Brooklyn ranks in the bottom half of the NBA in defense for a reason, and it could help a Cavs team that has struggled a bit on offense at times stay in this game.
2. Limit second-chance opportunities
The Cavs’ bigs can be crucial on offense, but they will also be a key part of the team’s defensive game plan on Tuesday.
This season, the Cavs are third in the NBA in opponent second chance points, as they allow just 12.5 second chance points per game.
Why is this important?
Well, the Nets thrive off of second opportunities this season, as they average 13.7 second chance points per game, which is good for 10th in the NBA.
It’s hard enough to stop Durant and Irving one time down the floor, so limiting the number of second chances anyone on Brooklyn gets will be a huge win for Cleveland.
The Cavs are also 12th in the NBA in rebounding percentage this season at 50.6 percent. If Cleveland controls the glass, the Nets could be in trouble on both ends since they don’t get many stops as it is.
3. Balanced attack
The talk of this game will be surrounding Durant and Irving, and rightfully so, as they are two of the game’s best players.
However, the Cavs bring a very balanced attack, led by Garland, that isn’t as reliant on one or two players having a big game. If Cleveland can limit one of the Nets’ stars, it can win this game.
For example, Durant scored 55 points back on April 2 against the Atlanta Hawks, but Brooklyn still lost the game 122-115. Now, Cleveland certainly doesn’t want Durant to score 55 points, but it shows that the Nets don’t automatically win just because he or Irving has a good game.
The Cavs have several key contributors on offense, as Garland, Love, Markkanen, Cedi Osman and LeVert all average double-digit points per game.
Garland is going to need to get things going, whether as a scorer or a playmaker, to help lead the Cavs, but he won’t have to do it alone. The Nets are sometimes too top-heavy, and it can lead to Durant and Irving having to carry the rest of the roster for four quarters.
This isn’t going to be an easy game for the Cavs, but it is a winnable one if they can control these areas on Tuesday.