Ohio Spotlight

March 14, 2024

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Cavaliers get set for stretch run

Will Donovan Mitchell’s return launch Cleveland into the postseason?

By Jason Schlefsky

With just 16 games remaining in their schedule, the Cleveland Cavaliers are currently 10 games out of first place in the Eastern Conference. Then again, they’re tied with the Milwaukee Bucks for second place in the East. Boston may have run away with the top seed, but the Cavs have a great chance to finish the season as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference – a solid step up for a team that finished fourth a season ago.

On Wednesday night, superstar Donovan Mitchell returned to the Cavs after missing seven games with a bone bruise – and his presence was felt immediately. Mitchell scored a respectable 14 points in 28 minutes, but perhaps the bigger splash was made as a team. On the night, the Cavs hit 20 – twenty! – three pointers against the Pelicans. Darius Garland had a monster game going 10-16 from the floor and 6-10 from three-point land; he finished with 27 points. Mitchell went 4-for-9 from beyond the arc. The timing of the Cavs lone All-Star’s return could not have been better, as they’ve been hit with the injury bug recently. Starters Max Strus has been dealing with a right knee strain, Evan Mobley has been out with a left ankle sprain and Dean Wade has missed four straight games for personal reasons. 

In their seven games without Mitchell recently, Cleveland went 3-4. 

In essence, this is exactly why Cleveland traded for Mitchell in the summer of 2022. The swap with Utah was a big one, sending Lauri Markkanen, Ochai Agbaji, Collin Sexton, three first-round draft picks and two pick swaps to Utah. While Mitchell and the Jazz couldn’t get over the hump – with Mitchell, the Jazz only advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals twice (and never made it to the conference finals) – Mitchell took the Cavs to the postseason last spring – the first time since 2018 for Cleveland.  They ultimately lost in the first round to the Knicks, but the expectation was clearly set.

At current, the Cavs possess the third-best odds to win the East at +1200; they trail Boston (-140) and Milwaukee (+300). Cleveland holds the 7th-best odds to win it all at +3000.

Is this the season that finally sees Donovan Mitchell advance all the way to the conference finals?

Sitting in second place in the East – and with a healthy Donovan Mitchell leading the way –

there’s no reason the Cavs can’t square off with Boston with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line.

Ohio Game of the Week:

CONCACAF Champions Cup: FC Cincinnati vs. Monterrey (Thursday, 6:15pm ET)

© Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

No, the results of the Round of 16 CONCACAF Champions Cup won’t count in the MLS standings, but there’s reason to watch FC Cincinnati’s second leg matchup with Monterrey. Not only did Monterrey sneak away with a 1-0 win in the first leg, but the lone goal scorer was none other than Brandon Vasquez – the former FC Cincinnati star. Besides, on paper, Cincy practically won the game; they held possession for 56 percent of the game, had  better passing accuracy, took four more corner kicks and outshot Monterrey at an 11-7 clip.  But soccer is a funny game, where a lone break or lucky bounce can determine the outcome. For all intent and purpose, however, FC Cincinnati is the better club in this one. It’s a must win and a must watch.