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Heading into their first true home stretch of the season, the Cleveland Cavaliers are one of the hottest teams in the NBA. At 7-4, many thought Cleveland wouldn't be in the position they're in right now – this writer included. The Cavaliers are playing hard on both ends of the floor as head coach J.B. Bickerstaff's vision for the team's offense is taking shape while their defense keeps opponents at a distance on most nights. This hot start to the season isn't just Cleveland using their youth and athleticism to take advantage of some teams still playing into shape, mind you. The Cavaliers have faced real adversity including a brutal west coast road trip and playing 8 of their first 11 games on the road.
They've also dealt with their fair share of blows to their rotation as well. Isaac Okoro has missed nearly all of Cleveland's games with a nagging hamstring injury while Lauri Markkanen and Kevin Love were sidelined due to testing positive for COVID-19. But, the latest blow to the Cavaliers may be their most devastating yet. Collin Sexton, who is averaging a career-worst 16.0 points per game this season, has suffered a torn left meniscus after banging knees with Jarrett Allen during the team's win over the New York Knicks.
For Sexton, this is a devastating blow as the young guard is in a contract year and is adjusting to a new role within Cleveland's offensive hierarchy. The expected window for recovery for Sexton should be around 8-10 weeks in the event he doesn't need surgery. If that's the case, fans should pencil him in to return at the earliest on Sunday, January 2 against the Indiana Pacers. Knowing this, along with the luxury of modern medicine, Sexton should be able to return at full strength and continue from where he left off.
Cleveland Cavaliers star guard Collin Sexton tore his left meniscus during the second quarter of the team's win over the New York Knicks. Sexton is averaging a career-worst 16.0 points per game this season.
If Sexton does need surgery, that's where things get a bit murky. The most recent example of this is Golden State Warriors big man James Wiseman, who tore his right meniscus 39 games into his rookie season, elected to have surgery and was out for the remainder of the year. Wiseman still hasn't played this season for Golden State but is creeping closer to the end of his 8 to 9 month recovery window. According to sources, Wiseman has been progressing well and will be brought along slowly to ensure his knee doesn't become a recurring issue for him.
Although Wiseman is a different player physically compared to Sexton, it should make fans optimistic if the young guard needs surgery to repair his knee. But, it can also give you pause as well. For example, players like Russell Westbrook or Derrick Rose, who both suffered meniscus injuries early into their careers, have dealt with recurring knee injuries because of their initial meniscus injury. This, obviously, can make you leery when it comes to Sexton's future. But, again, thanks to modern medicine, along with Sexton's overall disposition, it feels safe to assume he'll bounce back from this. It just remains to be seen how Sexton will bounce back on the floor and we won't have a clearer idea of that until the team updates everyone on his status.
With all that said, whenever the Cavaliers need a bucket on any given night, more often than not they could rely on Sexton to go get that for them. Sure, losing that is a huge blow to Cleveland's existing momentum. But, it also might not be the end of the world for the Cavaliers either.
It's going to take several players for Cleveland to replicate the loss in terms of scoring Sexton produces. But, the Cavaliers should be seeing some welcome faces return soon since, according to sources, Okoro should be on track to play this Wednesday against the Washington Wizards. Following Okoro soon after should be Markkanen and Love as well as both will be out of the ten-day window the NBA requires in the event players are not able to produce concurrent PCR tests. All that's keeping either big man back at that point is passing a cardiovascular test administered by the league.
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If both Markkanen and Love accomplish that, then the blow from losing Sexton's scoring is softened quite a bit – especially in terms of three-point shooting. But, since Sexton is the team's starting two guard, what will Bickerstaff do for his lineups going forward? Typically, Cleveland's head coach usually remains coy when it comes to revealing his hand. But, based on how he's hellbent and determined to stick with the Tower City lineup of Markkanen alongside Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, it becomes easier to see the forest for the trees.
If the Cleveland Cavaliers continue to play big, then they should stick Spanish guard Ricky Rubio into the starting lineup to replace Collin Sexton.
With that in mind, there's a good chance that the Cavaliers roll out a starting lineup of the Tower City trio alongside Darius Garland and Ricky Rubio when the team is fully healthy. But, if Markkanen or Love are still sidelined on Wednesday against the Wizards, do not be surprised if Bickerstaff goes smaller and leans on Cedi Osman or Dylan Windler to be the team's starting small forward. Ideally, when Cleveland is at full strength, the Cavaliers still remain big while starting Okoro next to Garland. Having Rubio still as the first option off the bench has been paramount for Cleveland's early success and Bickerstaff shouldn't tinker too much with what has been working for the team so far.
Having so much depth and so much roster versatility is a great problem for the Cavaliers to have – even with Sexton's extended absence. As mentioned before, Sexton was adjusting to a new role in Cleveland's offensive hierarchy, averaging a career-worst in terms of points per game all while ceding looks to the likes of Garland, Rubio, Allen and Mobley in order to help the team win. The Cavaliers have not been overly reliant on Sexton's ball dominance and scoring as they have in the past this season and so far, it's clearly generated success for them.
More than anything, this will be a good test for Bickerstaff and Cleveland's coaching staff to figure out some of the team's other key pieces without Sexton on the floor. It also more than anything can allow Garland to truly shine as the team's lead maestro on nearly every offensive possession and truly play to his strengths. If the team continues to play strong without Sexton out there, the real dilemma will instead be how he fits with the rest of the team's roster. Based on his usage this season with the Cavaliers, Sexton projects as a super-charged sixth man. Only time will tell if this remains true or not. But, all signs point to things being the same once Cleveland learns to exist without Sexton on the floor.
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