The Memphis Grizzlies are doing it all over again. After a big time win in Brooklyn, they’ll now travel to Cleveland for a meeting with the Cavaliers.
Like the Grizzlies, the Cavaliers have surged to start the first half of the season and have captured the attention of many in NBA media and NBA Twitter. Behind the trio of Evan Mobley, Darius Garland, and Jarrett Allen, they’re doing some really cool stuff. Former Memphis Grizzlies head coach (and newly extended!) JB Bickerstaff is also experiencing great success there, which is wonderful to see.
So tonight should be fun. To get ready for tonight’s game, I chatted with Evan Dammarell — the Editor for Fear the Sword, the Cavaliers blog of SB Nation — to talk about these two teams.
1) The Cavaliers have been everyone’s darling team this year. Is it weird seeing everyone love a non-LeBron Cavs team this much?
It’s honestly super refreshing! Cleveland is cool again and it isn’t because LeBron is on the roster. With the Browns being such a disappointment this year, it’s been great to have the Cavs be such a fun team this year and being recognized for it by nearly everyone. Part of that has to do with there being zero expectations heading into this season. But, they’ve quickly shown quite a few teams that they’re a good team.
2) What have been the catalysts behind this run?
It’s quite a few things. Part of it was acquiring Ricky Rubio. Rubio was a common thread between the stars, the starting lineup, the reserves and even guys on two-way deals. He was a key piece in re-sparking and revitalizing Cleveland culturally and you could see that he was making a positive impact both on and off the court for the Cavaliers. His biggest understudy has been Darius Garland, who is one of the other key catalysts for this Cavs squad. Garland has emerged into Cleveland’s de-facto point guard of the future and is part of a blossoming big three alongside Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley.
Also, a lot of credit should go to J.B. Bickerstaff as well, who has his finger on the pulse of this team and has made things work on both ends of the floor.
3) Former Grizzlies HC JB Bickerstaff has been awesome in Cleveland. What have you liked about his work?
Bickerstaff was put in an already untenable position of taking over for John Beilein and trying to right the ship from a very bad Cavs team. After that, he had to coach during the league’s return during the pandemic and almost had Cleveland in the play-in tournament. Now that he’s had an opportunity to coach the team a bit more normally, he’s been able to install his system on both ends of the floor. He’s done a lot of great things and also a few funky things as well, like starting three seven-footers in Mobley, Allen and Lauri Markkanen. But, it’s only weird if it doesn’t work and so far, it’s working.
4) Between Garland, Allen, and Mobley, who’s the most likely to be an All-Star this year? Will 2 of them get in?
Of the three, I think Allen and Garland both should get serious consideration for an All-Star nod. Allen probably won’t get it with the fan vote, unless the entire city of Cleveland votes like crazy for him, but he’s been the most consistent and reliable star for the Cavs this year. It also helps that Allen plays at a thinner position of depth in the Eastern Conference, unlike Garland. It would be cool to have two Cavs players representing the team at All-Star in Cleveland this year. But, just having one to begin with would be a great place to start.
5) As an outsider, what are your general thoughts on the Grizzlies?
I have told people so many times when Memphis and Cleveland were in the middle of their rebuilds, I was genuinely envious of the position the Grizzlies were in. Even more so now. Y’all have your bonafide star in Ja Morant and so many strong, talented and young complementary pieces to surround him with. There are a lot of parallels to be found with the Cavs, with the Grizzly cubs during into full-grown bears in real-time, too. They’re in a good place right now and will be for a long, long time.