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Cleveland Cavaliers guard Darius Garland against Brooklyn Nets in 2022.
Darius Garland of the Cleveland Cavaliers dribbles during a game against the Brooklyn Nets on April 8, 2022. | Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Darius Garland was arguably the biggest breakout star of the 2021-22 NBA season. The Cleveland Cavaliers point guard was an All-Star and finalist for the Most Improved Player award. He recorded career-high averages for points (21.7), assists (8.6), rebounds (3.3), and steals (1.3). And the 22-year-old shot his best field-goal percentage of his career, making 46.2% of his shots.

Garland’s efforts helped the Cavs have a surprisingly successful season. They notched their first winning year without LeBron James since 1997-98, and they made the NBA Play-In Tournament. However, injuries were the main reason they even dropped to the play-in tourney, and they eventually resulted in the Cavaliers losing their two games and missing the playoffs.

Garland has since admitted he was “hurt” by the losses. But it appears he will use them as motivation heading into 2022-23.

Darius Garland says he was “hurt” by NBA Play-In Tournament losses

The Cavaliers first played the Brooklyn Nets in the play-in tourney. Brooklyn finished in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, and Cleveland finished eighth. However, despite Darius Garland and company putting up a tough fight, the Cavs lost 115-108.

They then had one more chance to make the playoffs with a game against the ninth-place Atlanta Hawks. But Trae Young’s squad defeated the Cavaliers 107-101 to officially keep them out of the playoffs.

Cleveland went into the games banged up. All-Star big man Jarrett Allen missed extensive time at the end of the season, and the team’s leading scorer from the previous two years, Collin Sexton, didn’t play the majority of the year due to a knee injury.

So, with a (hopefully) healthy squad next year, Garland has big hopes for the Cavs.

“Getting into the playoffs (is a goal), for sure,” he said to GQ. “I want to make it to the first or second round. That’s my number one goal. Having that play-in game experience and not getting into the playoffs, I was kind of hurt about it. But, next year, we’ll be back better and a lot healthier.”

What hurt the most about the losses to the Nets and Hawks?

“It was getting that experience and I didn’t want the season to end,” Garland added. “Being there, feeling the playoff experience, that atmosphere with the whole city behind you, you could barely hear in the arena. It was lit the whole time, in Brooklyn [and in] the second game against Atlanta at home. That was probably the most intense basketball I’ve ever had in my life. So it was cool having that experience, but I definitely want to get into the playoffs.”

The Cavs have the potential to have a big 2022-23 season


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A healthy Cavs team can cause problems for the Eastern Conference next season.

Even with Collin Sexton sidelined, they were a top-four seed in the East at this year’s All-Star break. If they can re-sign Sexton and put him on a roster with Garland, Allen, standout rookie Evan Mobley, and Caris LeVert, the Cavaliers can be one of the most dangerous teams in the league next year.

That’s not the only players they will have, though. The Cavs’ play-in tourney loss allowed them to keep their 2022 draft pick after they included it in the deal for LeVert at the trade deadline. It had a lottery protection, so they own that and two second-rounders, which means the Cavaliers have the flexibility to make a move for a star veteran, or they can draft a big-time prospect with their lottery selection.

Darius Garland and the Cavs may be hurt after a disappointing end to their 2021-22 season, but they can use that as motivation to have a stellar 2022-23 campaign.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference