The Cleveland Cavaliers will not have a favorable schedule to being the season like they did last year. Instead, the Cavs will have 16 games against 2020-21 playoff teams over their first 25 games of the season. In addition, some possible playoff contenders like the Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors are also slated in the first 25 games.
Cleveland’s Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff and General Manager Koby Altman have been quite vocal they have goals for the playoffs this season. Well, if that is to happen the Cavaliers have to perform at a high level immediately. They cannot begin the year poorly due to a tough schedule, the Cavs have to beat some playoff-caliber teams on a regular basis to start the season.
Cleveland’s First 25 Games
As mentioned, the Cavaliers’ first 25 games, which extends to December 6th, is a tough stretch. Many of the playoff teams on the schedule to begin the year are also real championship contenders. From the third to the seventh game of the year, Cleveland will play the Hawks, Nuggets, Clippers, Lakers and the Suns. The Hawks game is the only home game in this extremely difficult start to the year.
The rest of the Cavaliers’ schedule can be found here. It will be very interesting to see how the Cavs can begin the season. They started last season off hot and surprised a lot of people by beating teams like the Brooklyn Nets. Can Cleveland replicate that start again with such a gauntlet of schedule? That will be revealed within just the first two weeks of the season.
If the Cavs are to contend for the playoffs, they do not need to come out of their first 25 games way above .500. Some games will be lost since the schedule is so challenging, especially for a very young roster that has not experienced too much success. Coming out with a record around 13-12 or 12-13 is good enough to still contend for the playoffs by the end of the year.
Which players will be tested right away?
These Cavaliers youngsters better be ready because it is going to be trial by fire. How good the Cavs can be this season will be known almost immediately. The performance of Evan Mobley, the newly-acquired Lauri Markkanen, Ricky Rubio, Darius Garland and Isaac Okoro will be particularly important.
Mobley’s situation is easily understood, he is a rookie that has some high expectations but playing such stiff competition right away will be tough for him. Meanwhile, Markkanen received a hefty contract from Cleveland and will be looking to prove he deserves it. Markkanen is in a new role with the Cavaliers, expected to be a sixth-man type of player that can score in bunches. He has the chance to make a statement against many good teams. Furthermore, Ricky Rubio has played at a high level as a backup point guard during the preseason. His play against good opponents could set the expectations for his year.
Next, Darius Garland could be in the midst of a breakout year in this 25 game stretch. Many across the league, like executives, expect Garland to emerge as a star and contend for the Most Improved Player award. Garland dominating against title contenders would certainly establish he is in for a breakout season. Lastly, Okoro’s second-year jump will be important for his development. Okoro was not particularly consistent on the offensive end last season and did struggle defensively at times. He needs to become that lockdown wing defender with some efficient scoring if the Cavaliers are to become a playoff team.
The Cavs have to contend with playoff teams
The playoffs is the goal for the 2021-22 Cavaliers. If they cannot contend and win some games against playoff-caliber teams, they are not going to make the playoffs. No NBA team makes the playoffs with a bunch of easy wins and no hardly-fought victories. The Cavs need to take a step this season and that can happen right away with a challenging start to the season.
The Cavalier faithful will be in for another losing season and a high draft pick if the Cavs begin the year poorly. The first 25 games will truly be a slippery slope. Cleveland could simply underperform for one west coast road trip against really good teams, and they will drop 4-5 straight and find themselves with a record well under .500. Cleveland better be up the challenge to begin their anticipated 2021-22 season.
Featured image courtesy of Jason Miller/Getty Images
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