Basketball divisions matter very little when compared to a team’s overall conference.
Even diehard fans might be forgiven for forgetting the Cavaliers‘ division opponents or even the name of the division itself.
Here’s a reminder: the Cavaliers play in the Central Division.
And within that Central Division is one of the league’s most formidable opponents in the Milwaukee Bucks.
In addition to the Bucks, the Cavaliers’ division rivals include the Pacers, Pistons, and Bulls.
While the Pacers and Pistons are both rebuilding, the Bulls were a playoff team last season, with the Cavs a likely third from the division had injuries not kept them out of the big dance.
Ultimately, the “winner” of each division doesn’t matter, but is it possible the Cavs could finish ahead of both the Bulls and Bucks next season?
One NBA exec thinks so.
Opposing exec tells Hoops Wire on #Cavs: “I think they’ll win that division.”
— Sam Amico (@AmicoHoops) August 9, 2022
Sam Amico of Hoops Wire reported that an opposing executive “think[s] they’ll (the Cavs) win that division.”
It would be a huge coup if the Cavs won the Central division.
Unlike football, the division winners don’t mean much technically.
It’s not like only one member from each division is guaranteed a spot in the playoffs.
Instead, playoff seeding is organized purely by a team’s win-loss record.
But by finishing ahead of the Bucks and Bulls (and winning the division), the Cavs would necessarily be seeded higher than both come playoff time.
Both the Bucks and Bulls are projected to win more games than the Cavs next season, according to VegasInsider.
Milwaukee’s over/under was set at 52.5, second in the league (and Eastern Conference) behind Boston’s 55.5.
And Chicago, for their part, is given one more game than the Cavs at 43.5.
Odds makers set Cleveland’s final total at 42.5, essentially matching last season’s mark (43).
Head to head, the Cavaliers probably have more talent than the Bulls.
Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen are all higher-caliber players collectively than Chicago’s Zach Lavine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.
But the Bulls have additional depth in the form of Lonzo Ball, Patrick Williams, and Alex Caruso who currently escapes Cleveland’s roster.
And in Milwaukee, the trio of Giannis Antetoukounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday are significantly more playoff-tested than the Cavaliers.
So You’re Telling Me There’s A Chance
Cleveland finishing ahead of Milwaukee and Chicago would be necessarily predicated on a few things.
First, last year must have been the norm, not an aberration.
The Cavaliers clicked beautifully last season, led by an ascendant Darius Garland and Evan Mobley and first-time All-Star Jarrett Allen.
The team also sported a top-five defense, better than even Milwaukee’s.
That same level of performance will be needed again next season.
Second, while the defense must remain the same, the offense has to kick up a notch.
The offense was putrid at times, finishing as the 20th-best last season.
Bringing back Collin Sexton and offensive leaps from Isaac Okoro, Lauri Markkanen, or strong play from rookie Ochai Agbaji could go a long way towards boosting some of those offensive numbers.
The Cavs received a vote to win the East 👀🔥
(Via ESPN) pic.twitter.com/Dhs8SFUfLA
— Cavaliers Nation (@WeAreCavsNation) August 10, 2022
Third, Cleveland must stay healthy.
Cleveland’s ceiling last season was around 49 wins if they stayed healthy.
That’s not a guess, that’s what the club was on pace for at the All-Star Break.
But injuries to Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley crushed the team’s postseason hopes down the stretch.
If Cleveland wants any shot to win the Central Division for the first time since LeBron James departed in 2018, they’ll need their stars to stay on the court and out of the medical tent.