The Cavs are playing their best basketball of the Donovan Mitchell era

The Cavs are playing their best basketball of the Donovan Mitchell era

The Cleveland Cavaliers are the hottest team in the Eastern Conference, winning 14 of their last 15 games. The Cavs are currently 32-16, which is their best record through 48 games in five years.

With Monday night’s win over the Sacramento Kings, the Cavaliers have climbed past the Milwaukee Bucks for second place in the Eastern Conference standings and first place in the Central Division. They are now just five games behind the Boston Celtics for first in the East.

This is somewhat uncharted territory for ‘The Land’ as they have not been on any kind of streak like this before. Since 2024 began, they have the league’s best record at 15-2 to surpass the franchise record for the best start to a calendar year. LeBron James’ 2008, 2010 and 2016 Cavaliers teams previously held the record with 12-3 marks.

Two of those James-led teams lost to the Finals-bound Celtics (2008 and 2010) while the 2016 squad won it all, which bodes well for this version of the Cavaliers with championship aspirations.

Their next 10 games to close out February include six teams below .500 and two games against a Philadelphia 76ers team without reigning MVP Joel Embiid, meaning this hot streak could continue. Their upcoming schedule is at Washington, at Brooklyn, at Toronto, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Chicago, vs. Orlando, at Phildelphia, at Washington, vs. Dallas and at Chicago.

The key to Cleveland’s hot streak has been their main cog, Donovan Mitchell. Recently named to his fifth straight All-Star Game, the 6-foot-3 guard is averaging 28.2 points, 6.4 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game this season. The superb Mitchell has been willing the Cavs to win. What’s more impressive is that Mitchell started this hot streak without fellow centerpieces Darius Garland and Evan Mobley in the lineup (although they have since returned from injuries).

Now, with Garland and Mobley back in the fold, the Cavaliers are even more lethal offensively and defensively as they look to contend in the Eastern Conference. Mobley’s return has been impactful for Cleveland as they are tied for the best defense in the league in 2024, having a defensive rating of 105.4 along with the new-look New York Knicks.

The Cavaliers also filled a big need in the offseason by adding shooters Max Strus and Georges Niang in free agency. In last year’s playoffs, they were exposed by the Knicks as they lacked outside shooting to complement Mitchell and Garland’s drives and pick-and-roll actions with non-shooting big men Mobley and Jarrett Allen. 

This season, the Cavs’ offseason signing of Strus has been huge, with the 6-foot-6 wing providing the necessary spacing. Strus was immediately inserted into the starting lineup over mainstays Caris LeVert and Isaac Okoro and it has done wonders for Cleveland.

Off the bench, Niang also provides the same threat from outside in certain situations. The Cavs also rewarded Sam Merrill with some playing time, and he’s been balling and shooting the ball at a high clip as of late, helping the team go on this amazing run.

Speaking of LeVert and Okoro, both wings have made noticeable improvements from last season with each playing a specified role suited to their strengths. LeVert comes in as a secondary playmaker and shotmaker to ease the burden on Garland and Mitchell, while Okoro plays lockdown defense on the opponent’s best perimeter player as well as providing timely cuts to the rim and knocking down the occasional three-pointer.

Moreover, head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has found his ideal rotation now that they’re fully healthy again. Garland, Mitchell, Strus, Mobley and Allen are the team’s usual starting five, and then off the bench comes Dean Wade, Okoro and LeVert. The Cavs always leave one big on the floor at all times (either Mobley or Allen) when the bench players come in while Garland and Mitchell’s minutes get staggered in the middle of quarters. Niang and Merrill are their ninth and 10th men, providing a deep bench whenever they need extra shooting on the floor or when Strus struggles from outside.

Now, the Cavaliers will try to finish the season strong and hope that their regular-season success will translate to the postseason.

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