Cavaliers Heading In Wrong Direction in Power Rankings

J.B. Bickerstaff, Cavaliers, NBA
Mar 24, 2024; Miami, Florida, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff looks on as his team trails the Miami Heat during the second half at Kaseya Center. Mandatory Credit: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

There was a point during the 2023-24 NBA regular season that many people thought the Cleveland Cavaliers could be the second-best team in the Eastern Conference. They survived a stretch with Donovan Mitchell playing Superman while Darius Garland and Evan Mobley were sidelined.

Not only did Mitchell keep the team afloat, they were thriving, ascending up the standings. However, injuries have continued hitting the team, this time to Mitchell, and the results haven’t been anywhere near as productive.

As a result, the Cavaliers have slipped in this week’s NBA Power Rankings over at ESPN. Last week, Cleveland was ranked sixth. In this year’s edition, they fell down to 12, as their six-spot drop was the largest in the league.

“Midway through March, Cleveland was the No. 2-seeded team in the East. Now, with 10 games to go, the Cavs have a real concern about falling to fifth with New York and Orlando surging. They’re 5-7 this month without Donovan Mitchell, who has missed time because of his left knee and a nasal fracture, with no return date known,” wrote Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

NBA NEWS & SCORES: Donovan Mitchell, NBA Power Rankings, Cleveland Cavaliers Updates

Without Mitchell in the lineup, this Cavaliers team isn’t a very scary one to face off against. They have had some truly head-scratching losses without him in the lineup, such as to the aforementioned New York Knicks just over three weeks ago.

Without Julius Randle, OG Anunoby and Mitchell Robinson in the lineup already, New York lost NBA All-Star Jalen Brunson to a knee injury on their first offensive possession. Even without Mitchell in the lineup, the Cavaliers should have had enough to put away a depleted Knicks team, but they lost 107-98.

As McMenamin noted, they are under .500 this month without Mitchell, which has led to their spot in the standings being shakier and shakier. Their hold on the No. 3 spot and homecourt advantage in the first round is tenuous, at best.

The Knicks, who are in fourth place, are only a half-game behind them. The Orlando Magic, who are in fifth place, are only 1.5 games behind Cleveland. If the Cavaliers cannot find a winning combination without Mitchell in the mix, they could be looking at being on the road for their NBA Playoffs journey.

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