After weeks of waiting since the Cavs clinched a playoff berth following a 108-91 win over the Houston Rockets, Cleveland and its young stars like guard Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland and forward Evan Mobley will finally be able to tip off in their first postseason series since the team started a transitional period following the 2017-18 season.
The playoffs can bring the best, or the worst, out of the staples of any competitive team. It brought out the best for the Cavs when they overcame a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals against a seemingly-unstoppable squad in the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors, featuring a Game 7 that saw then-Cavs forward Kevin Love keep guard Stephen Curry from taking a comfortable shot, not once, but twice just when his team needed him the most.
And, hopefully, it will bring out the best of a playoff veteran in Mitchell and a budding and talented Cavs starting lineup.
New York Knicks forward Julius Randle has missed New York’s final five games with a sprained left ankle. Though he has gone through parts of practice this week, he has yet to go through contact drills, according to the Athletic staff writer Fred Katz.
The team had yet to provide an update about his Game 1 status as of Thursday morning.
From Cavs center Jarrett Allen to guard Caris LeVert, the Cavs have nominated their fair share of X-factors during the 2022-23 season. Cavs guard Donovan Mitchell immediately pointed to Allen when asked what differences the Cavs had between two November games against the Milwaukee Bucks, pointing out his ability to set on and slip out of screens and his expertise in finding the right spot in the half-court or on the full in a fast break.
Donovan Mitchell, who thought he would be traded to the New York Knicks before his trade to Cleveland, will likely have to take up a more prominent role for a team filled with players new to the NBA Playoffs.
But it wouldn’t be a true postseason series if another player didn’t step up and show just how important they were to their respective franchise.
With the 2023 NBA Playoffs just around the corner, who will have to be the biggest X-factor for this promising Cavs roster when it comes time to face the New York Knicks?
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Cleveland Cavaliers’ X-factor vs. Knicks: Evan Mobley
If there was any time for the young forward to flash his brightest signs of potential, it would be during this playoff series.
A second-year forward out of USC, Mobley is averaging 16.2 points, nine rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game as he plays alongside Allen in the Cavs’ frontcourt. The 7-foot forward scored as many as 38 points for the Cavs in a January win over the Milwaukee Bucks at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, hitting 19 of his 27 field goal attempts in a game Mitchell sat out after he suffered a groin injury against the New Orleans Pelicans.
“He had this look where he was just being aggressive and attacking,” Mitchell told Bally Sports Ohio. “I told him ‘don’t you dare pass the ball.’ ‘Don’t you dare pass it.'”
Mitchell, who spent several seasons with now-Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert, responded bluntly when asked about Mobley’s Defensive Player of the Year case before a 130-116 loss to the Knicks in Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
“He should be the Defensive Player of the Year,” Mitchell said, via ESPN Cavs beat reporter Danny Cunningham. “I’ve played with a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, so I know what it looks like and I’m seeing it with him, for sure.”
Teams around the league have taken notice of Mobley’s advanced skillset as the season progressed.
Mobley’s touch and ability to use his height to his advantage garnered high praise from New Orleans Pelicans head coach Willie Green following a 113-103 comeback win by the Cavs in Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
“He has incredible touch,” Willie Green said. “He can catch the ball at seven feet and shoot over the top of defenses. He did that tonight once again.
“He’s another guy on their team that’s a major threat. Even though he’s a young guy, he plays with poise.”
Evan Mobley scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds against the Pelicans. He shot 80% from the field as he worked with Garland and Allen to find easy shots in the paint.
Mobley’s rebounding expertise and ability to hold his own on the interior will make him an invaluable player when the Cavs match up against a talented frontcourt featuring center Mitchell Robinson and Randle upon his return. Evan Mobley became the primary defender of Robinson in the team’s first two matchups on Oct. 30 and Dec. 4.
Mobley took the time to share his thoughts on what Randle brings to the floor and how New York changes when he is on and off the court.
“(Randle) is a big piece, so playing with him and without him are kind of two different games,” Mobley said, via Heavy Sports. “With (Randle) on the floor, they’re definitely dynamic with him and (Jalen) Brunson, and then with him off the court, it’s mostly Brunson doing a lot of playmaking and stuff like that, so it’s different games basically.”
Should Mobley continue to see his role increase during the playoffs, the 21-year-old forward may be on the verge of having a special postseason series against the New York Knicks. His versatility, defensive ability, mental fortitude and improved shooting will make him a valuable part of Cleveland’s run past the regular season.
If the Cavaliers want to advance past New York, they will need Evan Mobley to continue playing at the high level he has shown throughout the year. He must continue living up to the massive comparisons by Cavs guard Ricky Rubio and his Cavaliers teammates.
And he will need to be Cleveland’s biggest X-factor when the Cavaliers take the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse floor on Saturday.
Game 1 between the Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks will be held at 6 p.m. EDT on Saturday, April 15. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN.