The Cleveland Cavaliers are on fire ahead of the league’s All-Star break, and they are making a push for the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference.
Ahead of Thursday night’s action, the Cavs are just five games back of the Boston Celtics for the top seed, even though they lost to the Philadelphia 76ers in their final game before the All-Star break.
Cleveland’s run has been powered by winning seven of its last eight games, and the team is starting to show that it belongs in the conversation with the Sixers, Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks for the No. 1 seed.
With the Brooklyn Nets trading away Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving at the trade deadline, the Cavs have a clearer path to at least a top-four spot in the conference.
Cleveland didn’t make a major move at the deadline, although it has added Danny Green in the buyout market.
It didn’t really need to make a move given how well they’ve constructed their young roster. Cleveland has plenty of depth on the wing, and star guards Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland are as good of a one-two punch as you’ll find in the Eastern Conference.
The All-Star break will give teams time to rest up and prepare for the stretch run, and the Cavs should be looked at as one of the most dangerous teams in the league over the final months of the season.
In fact, they may be able to finish with the No. 1 seed in the East when it’s all said and done. Here are three reasons why:
1. Excelling on both ends of the floor
The Cavs may have the fourth-best record in the East at the moment, but the team’s advanced metrics show that it is one of the best all-around teams in the NBA.
Cleveland ranks No. 2 in the league in net rating, behind only the Celtics, at 5.8. No other team in the NBA has a net rating above 4.5. That means there is a serious gap between Boston, Cleveland and the rest of the league.
How have the Cavs done it?
Well, they have been elite on both ends of the floor this season, something most teams can’t say.
Cleveland is No. 1 in the NBA in defensive rating and No. 10 in offensive rating. The only other teams that are top 10 in the league in both of those categories are the Celtics and Sixers.
That’s some pretty elite company at this point in the season. While both of those teams are in the East, the Cavs have a few other things that are going their way in the second half of the season.
2. Ending the season with winnable games
What may be most impressive about the Cavs’ performance this season is that they’ve done it while playing many of their toughest games.
According to Tankathon, Cleveland has the 27th toughest remaining schedule of all of the teams in the NBA for the 2022-23 season.
The Cavs, who already have two wins against the Celtics, have three more matchups against Boston and Philly. Wins in those games would help them swing the standings in the East.
Meanwhile, the three teams above the Cavs in the East all have significantly harder schedules to close the 2022-23 campaign.
Philly ranks No. 1 in remaining strength of schedule. Boston is No. 10, while Milwaukee is right behind them in 11th place.
Catching the Celtics will be the toughest task for Cleveland, but it has already shown that it can beat Boston this season. If the Celtics stumble in some of their tougher games, the Cavs have a much easier path to the No. 1 spot.
3. Injuries plaguing other Eastern Conference contenders
Cleveland has dealt with plenty of injuries this season, including recently with Mitchell.
The Cavs are relatively healthy at this point in the season, but the teams ahead of them aren’t as fortunate.
Boston is down Jaylen Brown (facial injury) at the moment, and the team had been without Marcus Smart (ankle) since Jan. 23 until he returned to the lineup on Wednesday night.
The Bucks are still without forward Bobby Portis, and star Khris Middleton has been in and out of the lineup all season with injuries. As for the Sixers, they’ve been listing Joel Embiid (foot) as questionable on the injury report for several games.
In fact, Embiid may sit out the All-Star Game due to his foot injury.
Joel Embiid said he’s not sure if he’ll play in the All-Star Game.
Embiid said his focus is health and doctors have told him he needs to rest because of his lingering foot issue.
— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) February 16, 2023
Injuries are hard to predict, but the Cavs have the depth and current health that should keep them in the picture among the top teams in the East.
That, coupled with their all-around play and light remaining schedule, makes them a team to look out for following the All-Star break.