For the first time since 1998, the Cleveland Cavaliers are ready to embark on a postseason journey that won’t be led by future Hall of Fame inductee LeBron James. Instead, the Cavs will enter the 2023 NBA Playoffs led by a dimer and detonator, respectively: Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell.
Mitchell briefly hit a wall after a whirlwind start to the season that saw him averaging 32.2 points and 7.3 assists per game in October. However, once Garland re-entered the lineup after recovering from eye injury he sustained in the season opener against the Toronto Raptors, he would play as if he never missed a beat and has had a career season.
With their star backcourt clearly ready to face the challenge that lies ahead of them, what’s the dream seeding scenario for the Cavs? What first-round matchup in the 2023 NBA Finals would be best for them?
Cavs’ dream seeding scenario, matchup for 2023 NBA Playoffs
Why The Cavs’ Dream Matchup Is Not The Nets
Though the Cavaliers front office reportedly has it in their minds that facing the Brooklyn Nets would be the best matchup for them, their line of thinking screams underestimation. As a matter of fact, despite eventually overwhelming the Nets in their previous matchup, Cleveland was outscored 61-54 by the Brooklyn in the first and fourth quarters.
Although the Nets don’t have the proven All-Star talent that they’re liable to face from other teams, Brooklyn has arguably the best collection of defenders in the Eastern Conference aside from the Milwaukee Bucks. That being said, although Mitchell and Garland impressed against the Nets with 31 points in the victory, he also shot just 4-12 from the floor in the first and fourth quarters. Garland finished with just 17 points, five turnovers and Brooklyn outscored Cleveland by five points when he was on the floor.
Why The Cavs’ Dream Matchup Is The Heat
With this in mind, the Cavs dream matchup in the 2023 NBA Playoffs is the Miami Heat. Cleveland, currently the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference at 46-28, is in position to face the sixth-seed Nets (39-33). Nonetheless, if the Cavaliers can overtake the Philadelphia 76ers (48-23) to become the third seed or if the Heat (39-34) can pass Brooklyn, then Cleveland will have the matchup that they need,
There are myriad reasons that the Cavs matchup favorably with the Heat despite their reputation defensively.
For one, Miami doesn’t have nearly enough firepower in their starting backcourt to face Cleveland with age and injuries slowing down veteran guards Kyle Lowry and Victor Oladipo. In fact, Lowry and Oladipo are playing their worst basketball in over a decade. Furthermore, starting guard Gabe Vincent only averages 9.3 points per game on 39.2 percent shooting from the field and 32.4 percent from 3.
Unless Tyler Herro starts putting up the numbers that Pete Maravich did in college, it’s unlikely that the Heat can handle the firepower that the Cavs backcourt brings.
Secondly, while Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo are praised for their two-way impact, they would be forced to pick their poison on the defensive end.
Butler could choose to matchup with Cavs fan favorite Evan Mobley because of Mobley’s ability to make plays away from the basket and the strength advantage that he likely has over the second-year big man. However, if Butler is guarding Mobley, then who guards Mitchell? Herro, despite a smarter defender this season, may find himself completely outclassed trying to stop Mitchell from scoring.
Bam may opt to choose to guard Mobley instead, freeing up Butler to slow down Mitchell, but then who guards an underrated scorer in Jarrett Allen. Allen, an All-Star in 2021-22, has averaged 15.2 points on 66.0 percent shooting over the past two seasons.
Yet, because the Heat start Kevin Love at power forward, they’ll need to decide who Love can matchup with. Allen is too big, strong, and physical. Mobley is too nimble.
Last but not least, while the Cavs bench is inconsistent, they’re more of an x-factor in the matchup rather than a liability. Conversely, the Heat have a bench that’s all but ineffective on many nights. In a series where every possession will matter for Miami, their inability to rely on players in their second unit could be a death nail.