Dribbles: Cavs Face Rising Wolves In Need Of Jolt; Have Won 7 Straight Vs. West

Random dribbles ahead of the Cavaliers’ matchup with the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday.Caris LeVert, Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA

1. I said it on my 330 To Go show. I said it on the Cavs on the Break podcast. I’m about to say it again. Since the All-Star break, I feel like I’m writing about a different team than I was in January. But they are still the Cavs.

2. Things have just gone differently lately. And we can’t expect the Cavs to win 17 of 18 as they did to tip off the New Year. Injuries have undoubtedly played a role. Not having Donovan Mitchell can understandably be a killer. But that’s not all. The Cavs (40-22) just haven’t been as sharp since about Feb. 12.

3. That said, the Cavs beat the Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics. Each took an otherworldly individual performance (Max Strus vs. Dallas and Dean Wade vs. Boston). I would say those were great “team” wins. It was more like a couple of guys getting incredibly hot.

4. So I don’t like what I’ve seen from the Cavs lately. They went from a team that went from looking like anything was possible to one that could be bounced in the first round of the playoffs.

5. Frankly, the last few weeks are the first time I’ve felt that way. Normally, I’m leading the bandwagon. I just don’t think they look right. Not lately. Even with Mitchell or the injured Evan Mobley and Strus.

6. That said, I can tell you that there is still plenty of time. All it takes is one night to pull it together and play up to your abilities, for the offense to really click, and for you to start feeling good again.

7. Tonight would be a good night for that. The Timberwolves (44-19) sport the best record in the West. Yes, they lost All-Star big man Karl-Anthony Towns to a meniscus injury. But they still beat the Pacers in Indiana on Thursday. They still have the likes of Anthony Edwards, Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert. So Towns or not, the Cavs best be ready.

8. The Cavs do have some numbers on their side. They are still tied for the NBA’s best record since Jan. 3 (22-7). They still have won seven straight vs. the Western Conference and are 13-6 vs. West opponents this season overall. They have also won 12 of 15 at home.

9. I do like how they also still have been scrappy. They came back from a 22-point deficit to beat the Celtics. They rallied from 21 down to take a lead against the Atlanta Hawks before fading late. They’re still playing hard. They just aren’t as razor-sharp.

10. To me, the one big change has been Darius Garland. He returned from a broken jaw on Feb. 10. The ball was placed back in his hands. The eye test will tell you he hasn’t been as impactful at running the offense as Mitchell was when Garland was out.

11. I’m a Garland fan, so this isn’t a criticism. But it does make me wonder. It could be just a coincidence. Maybe not, too. The Cavs had scored at least 100 points in 31 straight games. Twice in the past two weeks they’ve failed to hit that mark with Garland as the primary ballhandler. In fairness, Mitchell didn’t play either time.

12. No matter how you spin it, the Cavs are a different version of themselves. They have about six weeks to rediscover their magic before the playoffs get here. We’ve seen what they can be. Question is, why aren’t they now and can they get there again? I believe they can. But what I believe doesn’t make a difference. Only the Cavs themselves can do that.

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  1. It looks to me like Garland is shying away from contact, either consciously of sub-consciously. He isn’t trying to finish at the basket like he has in the past.

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