The Cleveland Cavaliers are the hottest team in the NBA at the moment, and some observers around the league are starting to believe that they can be real threats in the playoffs this season after a disappointing result last year.
“They won 51 games last season, although that mattered little after a quick postseason exit,” wrote Jason Lloyd of The Athletic. “They’re on pace to win 55 games this year. The difference this time? I’ve talked to opposing coaches in recent weeks who believe this team is better built for a deep playoff run. They have the experience of going through it last year, coupled with the necessary talent (i.e. shooting) that they lacked last year and the same smothering defense.
“Last season’s quick ouster still lingers, but more and more people around the league believe the Cavs are going to be a problem this spring.
“Ultimately, [Donovan] Mitchell and the Cavs will be judged by what they do in the postseason. But the people I’ve talked to all mention how devastating it is to face a lineup with two athletic 7-footers on the defensive end and all that shooting around them.”
Following their first 50-win regular season since the 2017-18 campaign, the Cavaliers were quickly eliminated from the playoffs in a five-game, first-round loss to the New York Knicks.
Now armed with a current six-game winning streak and 14 wins in their past 15 games, the Cavs have a 32-16 record. They have climbed into second place in the Eastern Conference, behind only the Boston Celtics.
To make it even more impressive, the Cavs played almost all of the month of January without starters Darius Garland (jaw) and Evan Mobley (knee), who were dealing with injuries. They have lost just two games in 2024.
With Garland and Mobley back on the court – and Mitchell and Jarrett Allen not going anywhere at the NBA trade deadline despite some rumors surrounding them – expectations are exceptionally high for the Cavaliers.
According to FanDuel Sportsbook, they are now the third betting favorites to win the Eastern Conference – behind the Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks – and tied for the sixth betting favorites to win the NBA championship, also behind the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns.
For his part, Mitchell has done all that has been expected of him during his two regular seasons with the Cavs. He is heading back to the NBA All-Star Game and may be emerging as a fringe candidate for league MVP while averaging 28.2 points, 6.4 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game so far this season.
However, the 27-year-old has had very little playoff success in his career, highlighted in part by last season’s first-round exit. He has emerged victorious in just two of his eight playoff series with the Cavs and Utah Jazz, with just one series win since his first in the 2017-18 campaign. That’s also the last time the Cavs won a playoff series.
He and the Cavs both seem to have a very good chance to change that if they can continue to play at the high levels they have been lately.