A look at the upstart Cavaliers and their chances against the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, and other Eastern Conference powers. Can they win the 2022/23 Eastern Conference?
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As loaded as the NBA’s Eastern Conference is this season, few people expected the Cleveland Cavaliers to be one of the reasons.
The Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, and Brooklyn Nets were three of the top-four choices to win the 2023 NBA Championship according to the preseason odds. The defending champion Golden State Warriors were the other top choice.
The Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat, and Toronto Raptors were also among the top-10 choices, with many experts believing the balance of power shifted to the East this past offseason.
So what are they saying now that the Cleveland Cavaliers are sitting firmly in third place in the East – and threatening Boston and Milwaukee for the top two spots?
Let’s look at the Cavaliers’ strong start, the reasons they’ve seen early success, and their chances of sustaining through the regular season and playoffs.
Cavaliers’ Addition of Donovan Mitchell Was Vital
Last year’s Cavaliers were plucky upstarts hanging around the outside of the playoff race. They finished 8th in the regular season but went 0-2 in the play-in tournament and failed to reach the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Their late fade (8-15 record after March 1) was partly the result of point guard Darius Garland being forced to carry too much of the scoring load. Going into the offseason, the Cavaliers wanted to address this weakness. They did so by adding Donovan Mitchell.
Mitchell, a three-time all-star, came over from the Utah Jazz. Since then, he has taken Cleveland by storm. He’s averaging 29.2 points per game and shooting over 50% from the field. Early returns agree that he’s the most important acquisition of the 2022 NBA offseason.
Cleveland Cavaliers Lineup is Strong
Equally pivotal to Cleveland’s 22-13 start has been the play of Darius Garland, last year’s leading scorer who’s moved seamlessly into a supporting role alongside Mitchell with 21 points and eight assists per game so far in 2022-2023.
The 22-year-old Garland joins the 26-year-old Mitchell, giving Cleveland a formidable young backcourt for the present and future.
What’s more, they’re joined by an equally promising frontcourt of Jarrett Allen (age 24) and Evan Mobley (age 21). Allen and Mobley both average double-doubles and give the Cavaliers a legitimate chance of having four All-Stars at the NBA’s midseason classic in February.
Kevin Love and Caris Levert add veteran leadership to a team that boasts one of the top defenses in the NBA.
Cleveland’s “big four” of Mitchell, Garland, Allen, and Mobley all rank among the NBA’s top-20 players in terms of defensive win shares. This is a stat that gives credit based on a player’s ability to prevent opposing teams from scoring.
Their scoring and rebounding numbers get the headlines. But it’s defense that could ultimately set the Cavaliers apart.
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Cavaliers’ Home-Court Advantage at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse
Defense, that is, and the Cavs’ impressive home-court advantage!
The Cavaliers are 16-4 at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. This is easily the best mark in the NBA.
While Cleveland’s 7-9 road record leaves something to be desired, four of those losses are by three points or less. They have picked up a road win against Boston, who figures to be one of their chief competitors for top honors in the Eastern Conference.
The ability to play .500 ball away from Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse combined with their stellar home-court play has the ability to propel the Cavaliers to 50-55 wins. And, of course, a high seed come playoff time. But how high?
Can the Cavaliers Win the Eastern Conference?
The simple answer? Yes, Cleveland has what it takes to win the East.
The more complicated answer involves separating “winning the East” into a question of regular season and playoffs. People downplay the NBA’s regular season, but a homecourt advantage like Cleveland’s makes earning that top seed all the more critical.
Cleveland’s chief competition, Boston and Milwaukee, is undoubtedly more proven with the Bucks claiming the 2021 NBA championship and the Celtics winning the Eastern Conference just last year. They’ve got a head start too, with the Celtics currently atop the East and the Bucks a full game ahead of Cleveland in the current standings as well.
But Cleveland’s advantage lies in its young lineup. Their ‘oldest’ starter is 26-year-old Mitchell. There is definitely less need for load management or games off for rest down the stretch.
Furthermore, veteran-reliant teams like the Celtics, Bucks, and other Eastern Conference contenders like the 76ers and Nets tend to downplay regular-reason results as the season progresses, figuring they’ll save themselves for the postseason.
In other words, earning the top seed figures to be more of an emphasis for the young, somewhat unproven Cavaliers. But if Cleveland is able to earn that top seed, it means all those veteran teams will need to go through the league’s best defense in Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse when the postseason tips off.
If you’re looking to build a championship contender, young talent with home-court advantage and the league’s best defense is a great place to start.
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Cleveland Cavaliers Odds for Division, Eastern Conference & NBA Championship
At the start of the season, the Cavaliers were 30:1 (+3000) to win the NBA title, with a 46.5 total for regular season victories.
Here are the Cavaliers’ odds at DraftKings Sportsbook as of December 29:
Cleveland Cavaliers 2022-2023 NBA Odds:
|Over/Under Regular Season Wins||49.5|
|To Win NBA Central Division||+200|
|To Win NBA Eastern Conference||+950|
|To Win #1 Seed for Eastern Conference Playoffs||+1500|
|To Win 2022-2023 NBA Championship||+2000|
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The discrepancy between the odds of the Cavaliers capturing the Eastern Conference title in the playoffs (+950) and the odds of the Cavs taking the top seed into the playoffs (+1500) is the most interesting element of these odds.
We see it the other way – as discussed, NBA teams tend to de-emphasize regular season results in favor of resting veteran starters for the playoffs.
It’s possible Cleveland will choose the same strategy. But, given the youth of their roster and the importance of home-court advantage to their success, it seems likelier the Cavaliers will push for that top playoff seed.
While still a longshot, betting the Cleveland Cavaliers at +1500 to capture the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs offers the most bang for your buck!
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