What’s up with the Cleveland Cavaliers?
Cleveland is currently one of the hottest teams in the NBA, riding a five-game winning streak to rise to second place in the East. They’ve taken care of business against lower-ranked teams while managing to knock down playoff-caliber teams along the way.
Leading the way is Donovan Mitchell who has been on fire to start the season. He has scored 30 or more points in five of the six games he’s played. He’s also assumed the lead playmaker role of the team with Darius Garland currently out due to injury. Mitchell is currently averaging 32.2 points, on 49-45-85 shooting splits, and 7.3 assists, launching himself into the MVP conversations early in the season.
While Spida has been amazing, it’s been a total team effort for the Cavs in their past five wins. They have the second-best net rating in the NBA, scoring 117.9 points (5th), while only giving up 105.9 points (2nd) per 100 possessions. Against the Chicago Bulls, five other players after Mitchell scored in double figures. When Mitchell was cold against the Orlando Magic, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen dominated the paint. Caris LeVert and Kevin Love also had big games in their past two wins.
The last time the Cavaliers were this high in the Eastern Conference standings, a King was leading the way. This time, they’re following the lead of a new superhero in town.
What’s up with the Boston Celtics?
The Celtics aren’t that far behind. At 4-2, they’re currently in third place, breathing down the necks of the Cavaliers. Despite all the offseason drama that surrounded the team, they’re still chugging along, hovering near the top of the standings.
Also playing like an MVP is Jayson Tatum. He’s been an efficient scoring machine in the first six games of the season, averaging 30.8 points at a ridiculous 55.7 percent clip. Tatum is also hitting 3.3 3-pointers per game on 40.8 percent shooting. His partner Jaylen Brown has also been scorching the nets, averaging 25.3 points per game - up from 23.6 points last season. As a team, the Celtics are a top five offense in the league, scoring at a 118.2 points per 100 possessions rate.
What’s surprising has been their defense – or lack thereof. Last season, Boston was one of the top defensive teams in the league. This season, they’re giving up 116.0 points per 100 possessions, dropping them to 25th in defensive rating.
The Celtics had a similar problem last season before it took them a couple of months to self-correct and find their defensive intensity. Are they following a similar path this season?
Storyline to watch out for
This is all about the defensive battle.
The Celtics have a slew of defenders to throw at Mitchell. Last year’s Defensive Player of the Year, Marcus Smart, is the obvious choice. But Derrick White, Malcolm Brogdon, and Brown could all get a crack at slowing down Spida.
On the other end, the Cavaliers have limited options when it comes to one-on-one defenders to place on Tatum. LeVert is probably the player tasked to defend the Celtics scorer. But Mobley, with his size and mobility, could also be an option if LeVert can’t stop Tatum.
This is a quick rematch to their meeting last October 29. The Cavaliers dropped 132 points on the Celtics behind 41 each from Mitchell and LeVert.
The wound is still fresh from that last loss against Cleveland so Boston will definitely be marking LeVert and especially Mitchell this time around. Expect the Celtics’ defense to make a statement and shut down the streaking Cavaliers.
Where to watch
You can watch these two East leaders battle it out tomorrow, live at 7:30 AM on NBA League Pass.