Take Darius Garland out of the lineup? Cavs go 2-0. Take out Lauri Markkanen, Kevin Love AND Isaac Okoro? A 3-game winning streak, of course. Take Collin Sexton out? They still beat the Celtics. But when you remove Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen and Lamar Stevens, while two of the others are out, and you have don’t get the same luck.
The #3 pick in this past summer’s draft had been shining for Cleveland, looking like perhaps the most talented in a very impressive class. But now he has suffered an elbow strain. He’s going to miss 2-4 weeks. Can the team keep winning with him on the shelf?
Tough Schedule Ahead
Even at full strength, the next four games for the Cavs would have been daunting. They play the Nets twice (once at home, once away) and also have the Suns and Warriors. Golden State has just two losses and beat the Nets by 18. Phoenix just got DeAndre Ayton back. And the Nets… well, they have Kevin Durant.
With plenty of wins against “better” teams already under their belt this year, the Cavs have made plenty of noise. Eight of their first nine wins have come with them playing as the underdogs, so they are no stranger to upset victories.
But, this is going to test their resolve. Playing against a team that has two top-15 players while being without 4/5 of your normal starting lineup could prove to be very difficult. But, you never know. These guys are dawgs, and they never stop.
Luka Doncic is known around the NBA by his nickname, Luka Magic. But maybe Cleveland has a magician of their own. So far in 2021-22, Ricky Rubio has been incredible for the Cavs. He’s averaged 15-4-7, along with 1.4 steals per game. He is shooting 39% from three (career-high) while also making the 2.1 per game, which is an early career-best.
Rubio had a game with 37 points and 10 assists against the Knicks last weekend in which he made eight treys in a row. He had 28 points and six boards against Boston, and has won a number of games for this team with his incredible effort and newfound shot-making ability.
With so many players out of the lineup, and the team likely being forced to play small, he’ll have to play an even larger role. He looks to be up for it, though. The 31-year-old has never been this valuable to a team before.
Evan Mobley played a role that not too many guys in the modern NBA can successfully do for the first four weeks of his career. He was splitting his minutes between power forward and center, being equally good at both positions.
He’d make more jumpers when playing next to Jarrett Allen. And use post-ups when he was the five. Taking him out of the lineup means the play of the team will suffer. Dean Wade at center to close out against Boston was a nightmare. Tacko Fall and Ed Davis aren’t equipped to play big minutes at this stage of their respective careers.
With Kevin Love coming back, it will help a little. But the Kev at center experiment did not work too well when Cleveland tried it during LeBron’s second tenure. While Jarrett Allen is out, the team will likely try him at the five. Lauri Markkanen should be close to returning, and could get some burn there.
Allen will hopefully return against the Warriors on Thursday, and if he does, that could help to normalize things. But one thing is for sure. The team’s rotation will not be the same. And they will have some work to do if they want to maintain their success.
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