The Cleveland Cavaliers Just Showed They’re Legitimate NBA Title Contenders After Dismantling the Milwaukee Bucks

The Cleveland Cavaliers have turned the corner from cute and surprising story to official NBA Championship challenger.

The Cavs made easy work of the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 26 and are now just 1.5 games back of the Miami Heat for the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed.

There’s still plenty of season left. But Cleveland is making a legitimate case that it belongs in a category with Milwaukee, the Brooklyn Nets, the Phoenix Suns, the Golden State Warriors, and the rest of the league’s title contenders.

The Cleveland Cavaliers Just Dismantled the Milwaukee Bucks

The Cleveland Cavaliers proved they're for real with a dismantling of the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks.
The Cleveland Cavaliers huddle during player introductions. | Jason Miller/Getty Images

You’ll have to forgive those in the NBA world who assumed a Milwaukee team at full strength — with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday all in the starting lineup — would be able to take care of the Cavs.

Cleveland has been a great story thus far in 2021-22. But surely the defending champions would be able to bring home a win.

One game does not make a season. But it can make a statement.

A balanced offensive attack (understatement) led the Cavs to a 19-point win on Jan. 26. Kevin Love continued his resurgence and led the team with 25 points. Cedi Osman also came off the bench and poured in 23.

Four of Cleveland’s starters were also in double figures: Darius Garland had 19, Evan Mobley had 16, and Jarrett Allen and Dean Wade had 10. Garland added eight assists while Allen added 10 rebounds to finish with a double-double.

Notable stats from Wednesday’s disassembling of Milwaukee:

  • The Bucks are fifth in the NBA in points per game this season, but Cleveland held them to less than 100 and 28.1% shooting from three.
  • The Cavs forced 19 Milwaukee turnovers.
  • Giannis (26 pounds, nine rebounds) and Middleton (21 points) each hit their usual level of production, yet Cleveland still won by almost 20.
  • It was just the fourth time this season the Bucks have lost with their Big Three playing together.
  • All 13 Cavs who stepped on the floor finished with a positive plus-minus. All 12 Bucks who took the court finished with a negative plus-minus.

It was a complete win for Cleveland.

With a deep and talented roster, the Cavs continue to show they’re for real

Don’t take my word for it. Via ESPN, Antetokounmpo was the first to admit this Cleveland team is for real.

“This is not the Cleveland we knew over the past few years,” he said. “They have a good team, and we have to respect them more. They’re a playoff team and are fighting for the title themselves.”

Added Love:

“We feel if we play hard and stay true to our system, we can beat anybody. I just want to bottle up what we have right now and stay hungry.”

The Cavs are 8-2 in their last 10 games and continue to climb the East. With a record of 30-19, they’re in front of the preseason favorite Bucks and Brooklyn Nets.

Only the injury-ravaged Chicago Bulls and streaking Heat are above them in the standings.

Cleveland is the sixth-best team in the league by winning percentage.

Love, Garland, and Co. are proving they have a real shot to win a title this year

The Cavs are second in the league in points allowed. Allen, Mobley, and Lauri Markkanen give Cleveland three legit 7-footers.

Presumably, that would hamstring a defense in today’s pace-and-space era, but not so much for the Cavs.

Love and Garland are capable of providing enough firepower to carry the team on the other end.

Mobley is the leader in the clubhouse for the Rookie of the Year Award. Allen is averaging a double-double. Combined, the two are blocking 3.1 shots per game.

If it wasn’t clear before, it should be now after they had no problem running the defending champs out of the building.

The Cavaliers are for real.

All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.

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