Game Night Observations: Flipping The Switch, Rubio's Impact, And Chasing 50 Wins

Game Night Observations: Flipping the switch, Rubio's impact, and chasing 50 wins

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

The Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Charlotte Hornets 114-108 on Sunday evening on the road to move to 43-27 on the season.

The Cavs didn’t show up the way they needed to on Sunday in Charlotte. The Hornets have been playing better basketball than their overall record stats as of late, sure, but this isn’t the type of effort from the Cavs that should be expected of a team that has legitimate postseason aspirations.

The Hornets played at home on Saturday night, losing to Utah, and had to play against the Cavs just 22 hours after the start of their game with the Jazz. Despite that, the Hornets looked like the team that was more prepared to play on both ends of the floor. They were the team that dictated the pace and created better offense, at least through the first three quarters of the game.

All of that’s concerning, especially this time of the year, when the team is gearing up to make its first playoff run as a group.

The fact that the Cavs found a way to claw back from down as many as 16 points against Charlotte and find a way to win does alleviate some of that concern, certainly. The Cavs very clearly have had a switch they’ve been able to flip at times this season. They’re second in the NBA, trailing only the Brooklyn Nets, with 14 wins on the season when trailing by 10 points or more.

That can be looked at one of two ways: either, the Cavs are never out of a game, or the Cavs fall down big in games far too often. Truthfully, the correct answer is somewhere in the middle. Finding a way to flip that switch and win matters. This would have potentially been a costly loss for any sliver of hope of moving up in the standings to potentially pass Philadelphia. It also would have been a puzzling loss that doesn’t happen often to teams that have legitimate playoff aspirations, as the Cavs do.

Ultimately, the win is all that matters to come out of Sunday evening. Given the circumstances that the Cavaliers were playing a poor team after two tightly contested games in Miami, maybe it was the case of overlooking a bad team. That certainly does happen from time to time. How the Cavs look on Tuesday night may explain if that was the case on Sunday.

Ricky Rubio’s best effort

The Cavs were led by Darius Garland on Sunday night with 28 points, six assists, and six rebounds. Evan Mobley had 18 points and nine rebounds, while Donovan Mitchell finished with 23 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter.
Despite that, it felt like the most important player for the Cavs on Sunday was Ricky Rubio.

There have been times this season when Rubio very clearly hasn’t been at his best. He’s only played 22 games since returning from a torn ACL in his left knee, and he was never expected to or asked to be a positive impact on the floor right away. These games are looked at as a preseason experience for Rubio in some sense as he continues to work himself to where he needs to be for when the games really count.

Sunday night showed what that version of Rubio looked like. He was a huge difference maker for the Cavs, with the team outscoring Charlotte by 17 points in the 19 minutes that Rubio was on the floor. His stats are very rarely going to blow anyone away – he finished with 11 points, one assist, and three rebounds – but there’s a certain impact he has on the game that can’t be quantified statistically.

When Rubio was on the floor, the Cavs looked as if they were in control of the game, which hadn’t been the case when he was on the bench. This game was played at the pace Charlotte wanted it played at before Rubio checked in, which is much faster than how the Cavs would ideally play. He has the uncanny ability to bring calm when it’s needed or chaos when it’s required. More importantly, he has a near perfect of what’s needed and when it’s needed. That was apparent on Sunday.

If Rubio can be as impactful in the playoffs as he was on Sunday, it greatly increases the chance that the Cavaliers win a series and advance to the second round.

Help from the bench

On Sunday the Cavaliers were without big man Jarrett Allen, who suffered an eye injury on Friday night in Miami. That meant the starting lineup would change, sliding Lamar Stevens in alongside Mitchell, Garland, Mobley, and Isaac Okoro. This was the first time that group had started a game together and the 19th different lineup the Cavs have used this season.

That meant things would look different for the Cavs rotationally, especially with Mobley in early foul trouble, springing Robin Lopez into action. He finished with two points, five rebounds, and a pair of blocks in nine minutes.

It’s also worth pointing out how well Caris LeVert played for the Cavs, too. There are nights when he’s frustrating to some fans because of how he fits, or doesn’t, with what the Cavs need from his position. There are nights when he misses shots and can interrupt momentum because of it. That happens.

But what LeVert does on a regular basis is make the right plays for the Cavs. He does the little things that don’t always show up in the box score. He’s not perfect for what the Cavs need, certainly a better 3-point shooter would open things up offensively, but it’s not as if he isn’t helpful towards winning, either.

There have been games this season the Cavs don’t win without LeVert, for a number of different reasons. Sunday night qualifies.

Standings and schedule update

This is something that will likely be included on a daily basis from now until the Cavs wrap up their regular season on April 9, or at least until their positioning in the playoffs is set.

Prior to this article being published, the New York Knicks game against the Los Angeles Lakers was still in progress. Depending on the outcome of that, they will either be tied with the Brooklyn Nets in fifth place, three games behind the Cavaliers. The Nets beat the Denver Nuggets on Sunday to stay in fifth.

The Cavs now have 12 games left in the regular season. Of those 12, five are against teams that currently are against teams that are currently slotted in to either the playoffs or the play-in, with the remaining seven coming against teams on the outside looking in and below the .500 mark on the season. Three of the remaining 12 games are against teams in the bottom four of the NBA – Charlotte and Houston – and two of them are against Orlando, who is currently holding fifth-worst record.

Aside from earning a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference, a goal for the Cavs to close out the season should be reaching the 50-win mark. Going 7-5 over the final 12 games is certainly achievable, if not likely.