Last season ushered in a fresh wave of optimism for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The team had crushed preseason over/under win totals by January.
Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen earned their first (of many) All-Star nod.
And Evan Mobley’s play was brilliant; he was the runaway Rookie of the Year until a late-season injury allowed Toronto’s Scottie Barnes to steal the award.
And while the end of the season was ultimately derailed by a few too many injuries to key players, the season’s shine and enthusiasm never wavered.
Now, the Cavs enter the 2022-23 season with expectations.
And Garland feels it.
Garland did not mince words when he spoke with the Varsity House podcast.
According to the ascendant point guard, big things are in store for the Cavs:
“I think we can get even better. I think we can make it to the Eastern Conference Finals next year for sure. We’re coming back with a chip on our shoulder. … We’re a young team. Like you said, we battled through a lot of adversity this season. So, it was cool just being there, but we not satisfied. We all in. We all ready to rock and roll.”
Eastern Conference Finals.
— Courtside Films (@CourtsideFilms) July 18, 2022
It would be a major feat for the Cavs to reach a conference finals after fizzling out of the play-in game this season.
It wouldn’t be unprecedented, however.
Two seasons ago, the Atlanta Hawks took a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, losing to the eventual finals champs Milwaukee Bucks.
But the season before, 2019-2020, the Hawks were shut out of the playoffs entirely.
And in 2020-21, the Golden State Warriors were in a similar position to this year’s Cavs.
They had just dropped both play-in games (first to the Lakers, then the Grizzlies).
But last season, the Warriors stormed back, bolstered by a healthy Klay Thompson and infused with youth and depth.
And on the back of Steph Curry’s greatness, they defeated the Boston Celtics to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy yet again.
So at first blush, Garland’s claim might sound outlandish.
But two teams have proven it possible in very recent memory.
The Cavs already figure to be a strong Eastern Conference team next season.
But Vegas doesn’t necessarily agree that the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals is a done deal.
The Raptors, Celtics, Heat, Bucks, Sixers, and Hawks all have higher over/under totals heading into next season, per PointsBet.
And the Cavs are +3300 to represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals next season, tied for tenth-best.
Strangely, that figure is equal to the Charlotte Hornets’ chances to win the Eastern Conference.
The Hornets, however, are expected to win seven fewer games than the Cavs next season.
Which player is going to have a breakout season? 👀
Cade Cunningham – Detroit Pistons
Anthony Edwards – Minnesota Timberwolves
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Oklahoma City Thunder
Tyrese Haliburton – Indiana Pacers
Evan Mobley – Cleveland Cavaliers
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 22, 2022
Expect those odds to drop if the Cavs continue a strong summer into the start of the regular season.
Nonetheless, the Cavs will have their work cut out for them in the Eastern Conference.
In addition to the aforementioned powers in the East, even the “bad” teams next season should be fun to watch.
The Pacers and Pistons will have exciting backcourt tandems and the Orlando Magic will feature a bouncy (albeit young) lineup that features Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero.
But Cleveland was one of the two or three best teams for the first few months of last season.
If they stay healthy, the expectation is that they’ll carry that strong play wire to wire.