Photo: Canadian Press
After their recent Texas two-step in San Antonio and Dallas, the Cleveland Cavaliers begin a six-game homestand against a Central Division foe in the Indiana Pacers Friday (December 16th). It will be the first time the Pacers and Cavs will meet this season.
For the Cavs, playing six consecutive games inside the friendly confines of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse is a blessing because the road hasn’t been too kind to the Cavs. Despite their 105-90 victory in Dallas against the Mavericks on December 14th, the Cavs road record currently sits at 6-9. On the flip side of the coin, the Cavs are 12-2 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, their two losses coming against the Minnesota Timberwolves on November 13th and the Sacramento Kings on December 9th (both of which I was in attendance for).
This past offseason, the Cavaliers shocked the NBA world by acquiring superstar guard Donovan Mitchell from the Utah Jazz. The acquisition of Mitchell sent the message to the rest of the league that the Cavaliers are contenders.
The kind of contenders that the Cavs are depends on who you ask, but whether you view the Cavs as playoff contenders or title contenders, the fact of the matter is they’ll have to go on the road and win playoff games in the postseason. Their road struggles could ultimately cost them a shot at advancing into late May and possibly early June.
Sure, they already beat the Celtics 132-123 in overtime at the TD Garden in Boston, but that was early in the season, and they do have another regular season trip to Boston on March 1st, but what if they have to go back to the TD Garden for a Game 6 or 7 for the right to move on in the postseason? That’s the exact scenario that played out in the 2008 Eastern Conference Semifinals and the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals (ECF).
We all remember how it played out in 2008. LeBron James and Paul Pierce traded blows back and forth. James scored 45 points for the Cavaliers, but ultimately it wasn’t enough, as “The Truth” poured in 41 points to help Boston secure the 97-92 victory to advance to the ECF. A decade later, James would lead the Cavs to a 87-79 Game 7 victory in Boston during the 2018 ECF.
Or what if their season is on the line and they have to play a Game 6 or 7 at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto? The Cavs have lost both games against the Raptors north of the border this season, although they could’ve won on opening night in my opinion had Darius Garland not suffered an eye injury. The Cavaliers have a history of playoff road success in Toronto, sweeping the Raptors in 2017 and 2018 respectively, but that was when James was in the middle of leading the Wine and Golders to four straight NBA Finals appearances, including a 3-1 comeback to win the city’s first championship in 52 years in 2016.
As the season progresses, the importance and intensity of each game is going to increase, especially between teams who will be jockeying for playoff positioning such as the Cavs, Hawks and Raptors tussling for the fourth, fifth and sixth seed and avoiding the Play-In Tournament (where the Hawks eliminated the Cavaliers last season).
Both at home and on the road, Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen are the statistical leaders for points, rebounds, assists and steals. Allen is the leader in blocks at RMFH, but Evan Mobley takes over the top spot on the road.
The Cavs are 8-2 in their last 10 home games. On the contrary, they’re 2-8 in their last 10 road games. In that span, they average 113.8 points per game at home and 107.9 points per game on the road, a near six-point difference, which could end up being a factor in important road games down the stretch.
Some of the road losses, including at the Bucks (twice), at the Clippers, at the Warriors and at the Raptors (twice), are understandable. Those are tough teams that are near the Cavs level, but road losses at Sacramento (before it looked like the Kings were going to be contenders), at New York and at San Antonio are inexcusable in my opinion.
The Spurs were 8-18 going into Monday’s game and were able to build up a 19-point lead in the third quarter and led by 10 late into the fourth quarter before the Cavaliers made a miraculous comeback that ultimately came up short at the buzzer. The Knicks were 10-13 going into the game on December 4th, and the Cavs didn’t even break 90 points, as the Knicks won 92-81.
If the Cavaliers want to prove they can make some noise and be a threat in the playoffs, they can’t lose to inferior teams on the road. They need to figure out how to translate their success at RMFH to the road, or they could slide down the standings in the Eastern Conference.
Hopefully, the win Wednesday night in Dallas is a step in the right direction.