Game Night Observations: Another Comeback, A Tough Schedule, And Mitchell's Status

Game Night Observations: Another comeback, a tough schedule, and Mitchell's status

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 Danny Cunningham covers the Cleveland Cavaliers for 850 ESPN Cleveland and

The Cleveland Cavaliers needed a win in a big way after returning home from a Western Conference road swing with a 2-3 record. They then found themselves in an all too familiar situation against the New Orleans Pelicans before ultimately winning 113-103 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

New Orleans center Jonas Valanciunas made a 3-pointer to give the Pelicans a 41-28 lead with 5:49 left in the second quarter. There was plenty of time left in the game and certainly a 13-point deficit is nothing that cannot be overcome in today’s NBA. But, it’s a place the Cavaliers have been plenty of times before. Monday afternoon was their 11th victory this season when trailing by 10 points or more, the most by any team in the NBA.

“We know we can do it – even though we don’t like putting ourself in that position. We just know we have a lot of fighters on this team,” point guard Darius Garland said after the win. “From the coaching staff to anybody on that bench, we know we can come back in any game, we can be in any game at any time and we can win at any time. That’s what we did tonight.”

This isn’t necessary a recipe the Cavs should be thrilled to be using, but it is one that will continue to help them. There’s very rarely a point where they’re out of a game. Even in this one with Donovan Mitchell leaving the game early due to a left groin strain, the team just found a way to keep pushing along until they were able to take the lead early in the fourth quarter and never gave it back.

The fourth quarter for the Cavs was a huge success thanks to the play of Garland and center Jarrett Allen. Garland had 14 of his 30 points in the quarter and Allen had 12 of his 24 as the Cavs outscored New Orleans 35-22. Garland hit big shot after big shot, making three 3-pointers, including one that put the game away with under a minute remaining in regulation.

“I thought he took over the game for us,” head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “Not only scoring, I thought he had some big rebounds for us, but he created for other people. He's proven that the moment is never too big for him and we've been able to depend on him.”

A scheduled loss turned into a win

Monday was a tough spot for the Cavaliers, and not just because they trailed by 13 points in the first half. The Cavs spent the last week and a half on the road. When a team is on the road for an extended trip, the first game back home is typically just as difficult as a road game. When that road trip is one that puts the team in four different time zones over the course of six days, the return is a real challenge.

The Cavaliers woke up in the Mountain Time Zone on Wednesday in Salt Lake City, flew to Portland for a game in the Pacific Time Zone on Thursday, then traveled to the Central Time Zone for a game in Minneapolis on Saturday night. The Cavs arrived back in Cleveland at approximately 2:30 a.m. Sunday morning.

This isn’t making excuses for professional athletes that have the luxury of flying across the country on private jets to play a game for millions of dollars, but that type of travel still has an impact on the athletes both physically and mentally. It’s a big reason as to why team tend to struggle when returning home from the road.

“It’s tough. Really, really tough,” Garland said. “Even the game, we both didn’t really get active until the second half. Just tough getting over that hump and coming off a 10-day road trip. We had to work through time change and didn’t go to sleep until like 4 or 4:30. It’s tough for sure.”

It wasn’t just all the travel for the Cavs that made things difficult for them. The fact that the game started at 3 p.m. on Monday afternoon made things even more difficult for the players.

"It's a tough game. There's no doubt about it. Time zones and all that stuff, travel, I think it's why we got off to a little bit of a bumpy start but we're able to hang on. But it is extremely difficult,” Bickerstaff said. “I was proud of our guys for figuring it out.”

The first half wasn’t one to remember for either team. The Cavs certainly looked like a team that didn’t know what time zone they were currently in, and the Pelicans looked like a team that was on the final game of their own five-game road trip.

“It’s just tough because you still feel like you’re in that road mentality, getting used to your bed, getting used to your home again,” Allen said. “Then the early games are always tough for anybody, at least in my opinion. You’re just out of your routine, you're out of getting your pregame nap, your pregame meal, and you gotta go play a difficult team like we did tonight. It takes a lot to just get mentally prepared.”

Mitchell Update

Mitchell left the game after playing just seven minutes in the second half and just under 22 minutes before exiting with a left groin strain according to the team. He disappeared into the back after checking out in the third quarter and returned to the bench at some point during the fourth quarter.

After the game, Bickerstaff didn’t have much of an update, saying that he didn’t know the severity of Mitchell’s injury and didn’t know if he could have gone back into the game.

How much time, if any, Mitchell misses could certainly make things difficult for the Cavs. The upcoming schedule for the Cavs isn’t easy, as they close out this week with a game in Memphis on Wednesday before a back-to-back with Golden State and Milwaukee at home on Friday and Saturday.

The schedule in January is the toughest month of the season for the Cavs, and Mitchell missing a chunk of it would make for quite a challenge for the team.