Game Night Observations: Expanding The Bench, Mitchell's Injury, And The Playoff Picture

Game Night Observations: Expanding the bench, Mitchell's injury, and the playoff picture

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 Danny Cunningham covers the Cleveland Cavaliers for 850 ESPN Cleveland and You can follow him on Twitter at @RealDCunningham.

The Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Detroit Pistons 114-90 on Saturday night at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

It wasn’t the best first half played by the Cavs, but they took control of a game they had no business losing when the third quarter rolled around. One of the more interesting things from a night that was mostly about taking business for the Cavs was how the rotation looked.

Lately, the head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has been playing no more than nine guys when the game’s outcome is still unknown. For the most part, that number has been eight.

Saturday night the Cavaliers had 10 different guys see the floor in the first half.
“I just wanted to give everybody an opportunity to get some reps,” Bickerstaff said. “A game like tonight, guys need to find a rhythm and need to play and play against an opponent. Those guys that we played are guys that are capable of helping us, so we just wanted to put some more guys on the floor, give him an opportunity to get some reps.”

The five starters all played, as did Caris LeVert, Dean Wade, Ricky Rubio, Cedi Osman, and Lamar Stevens. Stevens was a new addition and Wade only played three minutes in the first quarter before he sat down in favor of Osman. Stevens then replaced Osman for the final five minutes of the second quarter.

In Wade’s three first quarter minutes he didn’t record a stat and the Cavs offense bogged down a bit. Right now, he doesn’t seem to be providing the spacing that the team needs at that spot, and doesn’t provide the energy level that Osman and Stevens both do, albeit in different ways.

“I mean, it's that toughness. It's his defensive mindset, the energy that he finds and the way his teammates feed off of it,” Bickerstaff said when asked about Stevens. “When Lamar [Stevens] runs the floor and gets a dunk, his teammates love it, and it brings a certain energy to the game.”

This is something the Cavs are going to continue to workshop until it’s figured out. They, obviously, don’t have a choice in the matter. What they’re getting from the bench isn’t enough right now.

At some point, it’s fair to expect newcomer Danny Green to play meaningful minutes for the Cavs. It’s hard to believe he would have come to Cleveland after being a free agent last month to not play when it counts. They’re just not at that point yet. That doesn’t mean it won’t come, though.

“That's been our conversation is still looking at the long play with Danny to try to figure that out to make sure, one, he's healthy, two, he's got the rhythm that he needs to play with the guys,” Bickerstaff said.

Green did play in the fourth quarter when the game was out of hand. He finished the night with six points and made both 3-pointers he attempted. There’s no way of knowing right now when exactly he is inserted into the rotation, but it would be surprising if he isn’t at some point as the end of the season closes in.

Donovan Mitchell’s scare

The worst part of the night for the Cavaliers was when All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell injured his hand and immediately asked to be removed from the game.
Mitchell scored a basket that gave him 20 points on the night with 5:33 left in the third quarter. It put the Cavs up by 21 points, but that wasn’t what mattered.

Mitchell immediately asked out of the game, grabbed his left hand with his right hand, putting it against his chest. Cavs center Jarrett Allen committed a foul to stop the game, and Mitchell walked directly into the tunnel that leads to the team’s locker room with head athletic trainer Steve Spiro.

At the end of the third quarter, Mitchell emerged from the tunnel and rejoined the team on the bench with tape on two fingers on his left hand. The team announced that he was probable to return with what was deemed a left finger sprain. Mitchell did not return to the game, but that had much more to do with the Cavs leading the Pistons by 29 at the start of the fourth quarter than the finger injury.

“Yeah, there was no reason to put him in any risky situations,” Bickerstaff said afterwards.

Mitchell being available to return was definitely a good sign for the Cavs, but only time will tell if this is something that lingers for him.

Battling for seeding

As things stand following the Saturday night win for the Cavs, they’re in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Cleveland sits 2.5 games behind the Philadelphia 76ers, who beat the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night, and 1.5 games ahead of the red-hot New York Knicks, winners of their last eight games.

The rest of the way, the Cavaliers are going to be fighting for where they stand in the playoffs. The thought of them potentially falling out of the top six in the East is pretty far-fetched, but the thought of them falling out of having home court advantage in the first round isn’t.

It is something the Cavs are paying attention to. With only 16 games remaining on the schedule, they have no choice.

“You take a peek at it, and then you kind of try to move forward from it, but you can't really hide from it,” Bickerstaff said before the team’s game against the Pistons on Saturday night.  “When you're watching other teams play, everybody's always talking about it and it comes up, so it's kind of hard to hide from it.”

The most likely scenario for the Cavs is that they end up playing the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs. Even with a win over Boston on Friday night, it’s difficult to envision the Brooklyn Nets moving up instead of down in the standings. Miami is four games back of the fifth-place Knicks, and Atlanta is 5.5 games back. It’s much more likely that the Cavs move up to third place in the standings than it is one of those teams catches the Knicks for fifth.

Holding onto home court over the Knicks is something that’s a big deal for the Cavaliers, too.

“Having the crowd behind us really means a lot to us. It's like our sixth man just bringing the energy every night for us. Sleeping in your own bed definitely means a lot in the playoffs. Well, I don't know, but I hear it from a lot of guys, it means a lot,” Darius Garland said. “Home court advantage would definitely mean a lot to us.”