With the All Star break now out of the way, the Cleveland Cavaliers head back to business with their game faces on. Despite the poor performances early in the season, they’ve managed to turn the corner and put themselves in a good position thanks to a very impressive 16-game run from which they won 14 games. The team will look to continue their consistency from here on as they aim to improve every facet of their team game.
The rest of the regular season will offer plenty of opportunities for the Cavs to consistently take forwards steps and here are ten games worth looking forward to the most as they not only have value in their own storylines, but are also excellent gauges for the Cavaliers` playoff readiness because most teams in the list are poised to become foes of the Cavs come postseason.
10 — February 22, @ New York
Not only does a potential LeBron James – Carmelo Anthony matchup looms, provided that Melo isn’t shut down for the season right after the All Star break, this game also marks the return of JR Smith and Iman Shumpert to Madison Square Garden after that big January trade.
Both guards hold significant ties to the Knicks organization as Smith, despite having a rough season for the Knicks prior to leaving, still had his glory days in The Big Apple even winning Sixth Man of the Year honors while Shumpert was a Knicks draftee who held great potential and showed flashes of defensive brilliance whenever he was healthy.
It will be an interesting homecoming for JR and Iman who will both look to put on a great show at the Mecca of basketball.
9 — March 4, @ Toronto
The Cavaliers have matched up with the Raptors a few times already this season but this upcoming contest figures to be the most significant as the Raptors will have a healthy DeMar Derozan leading their attack against a new and improved Cavs.
Kyle Lowry will be fresh off an All Star appearance and it should bode well for his confidence as he goes up against Kyrie Irving in a battle between two of the top guards in the East. Toronto may be sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings along with Atlanta but they have never seen this brand new monster that is Cleveland.
Cleveland has two wins against Toronto so this final regular season matchup should further boost their confidence should these two teams meet again in the playoffs.
8 — March 25, @ Memphis
It’s always a hard fought game against Memphis no matter what the score is and their fans should help usher in a playoff-like atmosphere when Cleveland pays a visit. The Cavaliers convincingly defeated the Grizzlies at The Q but they played without Zach Randolph. With Z-Bo once again active, expect more physicality from the home team and it should be another acid test for the power forward tandem of Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson as they take turns in neutralizing the bruising power forward.
Thus far, the odds appear to stack in favor of the Grizzlies but the Cavaliers are continually improving from its players to the coaches. This matchup will happen late in the regular season but both teams are expected to be in the hunt for better positioning that should make this a highly competitive matchup.
7 — April 5, vs Chicago
You just can’t fail on a Chicago-Cleveland matchup this season. Both teams are expected to be nip and tuck over the Central Division title by this time and it is an extremely crucial position that will ensure the eventual division champ a top three spot in the closely fought East standings. The Cavs lead their season-series over the Bulls, 2-1, and a win to secure their third could become the tie breaker in case these two teams end up with the same win-loss slate.
Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose will also continue their head-to-head matchup which has been incredibly close. Throughout their three meetings this season, Irving and Rose has averaged PERs of 18 and 19, respectively. It will be interesting to see how the Cavs big men, especially Kevin Love, have improved defensively, either individually or as a unit, over the course of the season and entering the playoffs as Chicago boasts of a very deep rotation of power forwards and centers that can do damage from anywhere inside the court.
6. March 20, vs Indiana
The Pacers might be below the pack when standings are concerned but they have proven to be capable Cavalier-beaters as supported by their most recent win over the Wine and Gold snapping their 12-game winning streak. Indiana has embraced that tough-as-nail defensive mentality under Coach Frank Vogel and it’s interesting to see how Cleveland would react against a deceivingly timid opponent making this game an excellent opportunity for the Cavs to show some killer instinct.
It’s also noteworthy that we could see Paul George play in this game if he sticks to his timetable of a mid-March return. He and LeBron have had classic playoff duels and if Indiana still has a fighting chance by that point, Paul George could return as a man on a mission.
5. April 15, vs Washington
Three words. Fan Appreciation Night. Need I say more? Oh, well then this final game could have major implications on Eastern Conference playoff seeding if teams are within a win or loss from another
4. March 6, @ Atlanta
The Cavaliers should be aware how important it is to show up during road games if they expect to have playoff success and there’s no better test for the team than to go up against the soaring Hawks. Atlanta currently enjoys having the best home record of all the remaining Cavalier opponents at 25-3.
These two teams already hold blowout wins against one another but this final regular season meeting will be the true barometer as Atlanta never had to figure out how to stop JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov in their previous matchups. Like I said, Cleveland is now an absolutely different monster and they could gain tremendous confidence and momentum if they will be able to defeat one of the two best teams in the league, record wise.
3. March 10, @ Dallas
The Dallas Mavericks is one of the most potent teams in the league as they have an assortment of weapons guided by a proven genius in Rick Carlisle. They even handed the Cleveland Cavaliers an embarrassing loss at nowhere else but The Q in their first meeting and grudge matches are always fun to watch.
The Cavaliers are definitely going to have their defense tested as Dallas runs a predictably unpredictable offense which would require a lot of patience, focus, and discipline from the Cavs’ end. If the Cavs ace this test then it will absolutely take their defense to the next level.
2. February 26, vs Golden State
While winning on the road is essential, protecting your home turf is equally important as it could easily tip the scale of a playoff series to the other side. Golden State will offer a prime test to Cleveland when they visit The Q as they currently hold the best road record in the league.
Kyrie Irving and JR Smith will have to step up notches on defense if they wish to contain the extremely prolific Splash Brothers of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. It’s all about being great on both ends of the floor and the Cavaliers could learn a thing or two from this Warriors team who currently enjoys its spot in the top ten of both offense and defense.
1. March 12, @ San Antonio
To be the man, you gotta beat the man. These old geezers may not be at the top of the West but this is exactly how they want themselves to be treated. The Spurs enjoy being under the radar and they know how to capitalize on teams sleeping on them. The Spurs are simply the model of excellence for NBA teams and they’ve already proven that “they can” even without a top seed.
The Cavaliers did lose a close one to these Spurs at The Q but that was early in the season and a lot has changed from then on. LeBron will also be visiting San Antonio for the first time since losing a blowout to the Spurs in last year’s finals so expect The King to play with added motivation. It’s also worth taking notice on the coaching matchup as the legendary Greg Popovich will have to deal with “rookie coach” David Blatt one more time. Blatt has been regarded as a “future Pop” by other people and he’s finally starting to show his true no-nonsense self lately after a shaky start to his NBA coaching career.