The 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers have been a unique team throughout the season. There was constant drama after Isaiah Thomas came to town, inconsistency on both offense and defense, and their former star Kyrie Irving was cruising with the Boston Celtics. Besides all of this, the Cavs weathered through the never-ending storm.
Another thing the Cavs have dealt with throughout the season were injuries. Obviously, every team suffers through them but the Cavs really seemed to be hurting for a majority of the season, while teams like the Warriors are suddenly losing health heading into the playoffs.
During this season the team has only played with a 100% healthy roster once, and have not played with a healthy team since the franchise-altering deals at the deadline.
The biggest player missing since January was Kevin Love, the best power forward in the Eastern Conference. After breaking his hand in a road game against the Detroit Pistons, Love has been a major factor in the team’s recent winning streak with averages of 20.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.3 steals. Love was also huge in a win against the Toronto Raptors:
With Love back, the Cavs have their second option on offense in the fold as well. But not only Love has returned recently and been a major factor. Larry Nance Jr. was sidelined a few games ago against the Phoenix Suns with a nagging hamstring issue. The Cavs handled him with kid-gloves and brought him along slowly and finally saw action in their Friday night massacre of the Suns. Nance bodied Phoenix to the tune of 15 points and 10 rebounds and looked like his old self by the second half.
Tristan Thompson also returned for the Cavs against the Suns and finished with 4 points and 10 rebounds and give the team a good problem. With Nance, Thompson, and Love all healthy, along with the stellar play of rookie Ante Zizic, they are set in the frontcourt for the playoffs.
Finally, starting shooting guard and future star Rodney Hood also returned to the home win over the Suns and finished with 9 points, three rebounds, and one assist. When his back is able to handle more minutes Hood will be instantly thrust into the starting backcourt with George Hill and will be vital for the Cavs as a perimeter threat.
With so many players almost back, the team almost seems to be completely done with their injury problems. (Knock on wood!) Rookie swingman Cedi Osman is still recovering from a hip injury suffered against the LA Clippers and is expected to be back in time for the last few games of the regular season.
While it is going to be incredible to see this retooled Cavaliers team finally be able to share the floor at 100% strength, it also could not have happened at a better time. The rest of the league is suffering in the worst way from injuries, and they all have implications on the Cavs’ hopes of winning their second NBA Championship.
In the Eastern Conference, the Celtics have been decimated just as hard as the Cavs in recent weeks. Besides Gordon Hayward’s injury on opening night, the Celtics have also lost Jaylen Brown (neck), Daniel Theis (knee), Kyrie Irving (knee), and Marcus Smart (thumb) for what looks like the remainder of the season. Irving is obviously the biggest blow to the Celtics’ title aspirations as his knee injury from the 2015 NBA Finals will require surgery. While the Celtics hope he can return in the second round of the playoffs, there is also some serious doubt from others in NBA circles:
.@seleneparekhmd on Kyrie Irving: When you break kneecap there's permanent damage to cartilage. Early arthritis may start to affect kneecap (worsens over time) or he's possibly missing chunk of cartilage (would miss 4-6 months). #Celtics
— Adam Kaufman (@AdamMKaufman) March 24, 2018
With Irving now a question mark for the Celtics, they will likely be a first or second round exit in the playoffs and no longer a threat to the Cavs. The only other major team that poses a threat to the Cavs are the Toronto Raptors, and ESPN phenom Zach Lowe outlined how they will fair come-playoffs against the Wine and Golders:
The Cavs with Love at center are unstoppable. The only way to beat them is to outscore them. Only one team — last season’s Warriors — has managed that in the playoffs. As I wrote last week, Love at center might be the only lineup type in the Eastern Conference with enough shooting to play Toronto’s centers — Jonas Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl — off the floor.
One thing that Lowe failed to mention is that Raptors backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan become the trash brothers when the playoffs roll around. So, that crosses off the Cavs two biggest threats in the race for the Eastern Conference title.
If the Cavs make it out of the East, they also have a real shot at winning an NBA title due to what is happening out West. The biggest storyline is out of Oakland with the Golden State Warriors suffering a litany of injuries.
Klay Thompson (thumb) and Kevin Durant (ribs) have both been sidelined since early March with their respective injuries and are hopeful to make it back in time for the Playoffs. The problem is, their best player in Stephen Curry may be out for at least two months after suffering an MCL sprain, and depending on MRI results could be out even longer. Curry’s injury was an unfortunate one as it came at the hands of his own teammate JaVale McGee:
With Curry now out, the rest of the West just started drooling, especially the Houston Rockets. Curry is the head of the snake for the Dubs and the Rockets, led by likely-MVP James Harden, will seize the opportunity and will likely be the victor out of the Western Conference.
While the Rockets are a very intimidating NBA Finals opponent, the Cavs would fair better against them instead of against the Warriors if they reach the NBA Finals. Both teams are offensive dynamos but the Cavs have a younger, better bench and a few defensive specialists to balance the Rockets’ attack. If the Cavs square up against them it will be likely a six or seven game series but they would have a fighting chance; which is saying a lot compared to how dreadful they looked to start the season.
With the regular season coming to a close the Cavs are finally getting healthy. Kevin Love, Larry Nance Jr., Tristan Thompson, and Rodney Hood are all back in the fold and Cedi Osman and Kyle Korver are close behind them. With the entire squad assembled and free from minute restrictions, the Cavs can ravage the Eastern Conference like they have for the last few seasons. With the Western Conference shaping up to be a bloodbath and the Warriors likely losing Curry for a while, they also have a legitimate shot to win their second NBA title if they can make it there. For Cavalier fans, this is exactly what the doctor ordered.