On Monday, ESPN released its early win-loss predictions for the upcoming NBA season.
And needless to say, some Cavaliers fans might be left shaking their heads in confusion.
For a team in the top half of the Eastern Conference standings almost every week leading up to the All-Star Game?
As a reminder, seventh is only marginally better than where the team finished this season.
It would earn the Cavs a spot in the play-in tournament, not an outright bid to the postseason.
Clean Bill Of Health
On February 15, 2022, the Cavs played their last game before the All-Star Break.
Cleveland fell 116-124 to the Atlanta Hawks, but the loss was generally overlooked due to Cleveland’s excellent play up to that point.
At the All-Star Break last season, Cleveland was 35-23, in a tie with Philadelphia for third in the East and three games back of Chicago and Miami, who both were tied for first.
At the beginning of the season, oddsmakers set Cleveland’s over/under win total at 26.5.
But by February, Cleveland obliterated that figure and was on pace to win 49 games.
The 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers own the greatest title in sports history. There will never be anything else like it.
— Barry (@BarryOnHere) August 8, 2022
But the team from the first half of last season is the real Cleveland.
If everyone is healthy and clicking, the Cavaliers, with their top-five defense, are a tough out.
So why did Cleveland only earn the seventh spot in ESPN’s projections?
Here’s what ESPN had to say about the Cavaliers:
“Cleveland, meanwhile, took major strides last season behind the rise of Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley — and appears primed for another step. The Cavs almost found a way into the playoffs a year ago and have the talent to make a stronger push this year. This group also should be boosted by Collin Sexton returning after missing a majority of last season because of a torn meniscus.”
By just reading that blurb, one might not fully understand how successful Cleveland was last season.
In fact, that paragraph almost makes it sound like the Cavaliers went on some late-season run to make the playoffs but fell just short.
No, last season, Cleveland had a coming-out party.
And next season, as Darius Garland boldly proclaimed, the Cavs are ready to stake their claim for the top spot in the East.
At the All-Star Break last season, the Cavaliers were top-three with the Heat and Bulls.
But heading into next season, only the Heat are projected to retain their spot among the East’s elite.
The Bulls, per ESPN, are slotted just below the Cavaliers at eighth.
Last season, the biggest obstacle to Cleveland’s sustained success was depth, in this case, a lack of team and roster depth.
Heading into next season, depth might be yet again a key issue.
But this time, the depth might have nothing to do with Cleveland’s internal roster; no, next season, the Cavs’ depth issue might come from the Eastern Conference’s overall general strength.
Three of the top-five defensive teams last season hailed from the East (Cleveland, Miami, Boston).
The Cavs received a vote to win the East 👀🔥
(Via ESPN) pic.twitter.com/Dhs8SFUfLA
— Cavaliers Nation (@WeAreCavsNation) August 10, 2022
And two of the top three offensive teams also come from the Eastern Conference (Milwaukee and Atlanta).
Each of those teams expects to be even better next season.
Milwaukee will be fortified by a healthy Khris Middleton.
That’s not to mention the Sixers and Raptors, who will also have strong teams.
Can Cleveland hang with them?
Will they need to be healthy and at their best?