Cleveland Cavaliers on Verge of Becoming NBA’s Most Dangerous Play-in Team

Injuries have marred the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2021-22 season since the very beginning. After losing Collin Sexton for the year, the Cavs later saw Ricky Rubio go down with a season-ending knee injury. They have since had numerous stars struggle with health, resulting in them dropping from a top-four seed at the All-Star break to the NBA Play-In Tournament.

But the Cavs could soon be the healthiest they have been in months, which wouldn’t just make them the NBA’s most dangerous play-in team. They would also become the Eastern Conference’s worst nightmare.

Jarrett Allen will likely return for the Cavs

Since the All-Star break, the Cavaliers have seen Darius Garland deal with a back injury, Caris LeVert suffer a foot injury, Evan Mobley miss time with a hurt ankle, and Jarrett Allen sit out games with a fractured finger.

Garland missed the first three games after the break. LeVert missed the first nine and took the next couple of weeks to get back into the swing of things. Mobley sat out five games between March 30 and April 5, and Allen hasn’t played since March 6.

However, everyone but Allen has returned, and Cleveland hopes to see the All-Star big man back on the court for the NBA Play-In Tournament. He would immediately make the Cavs the league’s most dangerous play-in team.

Cleveland will immediately become a dangerous threat with Jarrett Allen back on the court

Before all these second-half injuries, the Cavaliers were one of the top squads in the Eastern Conference. They weren’t too far back from the No. 1 seed at the All-Star break and looked ready to make some noise in the postseason.

In fact, they have been one of the NBA’s best teams with Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen, and Evan Mobley in the lineup. Cleveland is 26-14 when those three start, which is a 65% winning percentage. The Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, and Memphis Grizzlies have only won at a higher rate this year.

Those three players are not only offensive threats, though, as Garland has become a terrific scorer who knows how to find Mobley and Allen in the post. But the latter two stars are some of the best defensive players in the NBA. Mobley is tied for 11th in the league with 3.6 defensive win shares, and they are both in the top 25 in defensive box-plus-minus.

Sure, the other play-in teams have dangerous weapons. The Brooklyn Nets have two of the league’s greatest players in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and the Atlanta Hawks have Trae Young. The Minnesota Timberwolves also score the most points in the NBA, and the Los Angeles Clippers are a different animal now that Paul George is back.

But Cleveland proved how dangerous it could be with its three main stars earlier this season, and that was before it added Caris LeVert. Now that the Cavs have another talented offensive threat in LeVert, who has been improving his chemistry with Garland in recent weeks, they can beat anyone in the play-in tournament – and give all of the Eastern Conference’s top playoff teams a difficult time.

The Cavaliers will give any Eastern Conference playoff team a challenging series

Cleveland Cavaliers star Darius Garland in April 2022.
Darius Garland of the Cleveland Cavaliers during a game against the Philadelphia 76ers on April 3, 2022. | Jason Miller/Getty Images

No matter who wins the NBA’s Eastern Conference Play-In Tournament, they will make things hard for their opponents in the first round. All four teams (the Cavs, Nets, Hawks, and Charlotte Hornets) are dangerous.

The Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks will likely be the top two seeds in the East and will play the winners, but they aren’t guaranteed spots in the conference semifinals.

The Cavs made things difficult for Giannis Antetokounmpo in a matchup earlier this year, and their defense can give the Heat, a mediocre offensive team, troubles.

Will Cleveland win? Probably not, but making it a long series with either one of those squads would impact the rest of the playoffs.

The Cavaliers may not look too dangerous right now. But a healthy Allen can make them a serious threat to the top teams in the East.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference

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