Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Cavs feel the pressure after last season's early playoff exit: 'It's time to win a round'

Cleveland Cavaliers Guard Donovan Mitchell (45) points up and forward. Memphis Grizzlies' GG Jackson (45) stands by.
Phil Long
A healthy Donovan Mitchell is the key to Cleveland winning its first-round series against the Orlando Magic, which begins Saturday in Cleveland.

The Cleveland Cavaliers (48-34) are heading to the playoffs for the second straight year. The fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, they’ll play the fifth-seeded Orlando Magic (47-35) in the best-of-seven-game series beginning Saturday at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.

Ideastream Public Media’s sports commentator Terry Pluto said he’s optimistic about the Cavs despite the team's 11-16 record since the All-Star break, especially with the playoff-clinching 129-120 win over the Indiana Pacers on Friday.

“A lot of the time when they were losing after the All-Star break (it) had to do with Donovan Mitchell having both a broken nose and a really inflamed knee. He's their star, and when they were playing their best, it was with Mitchell playing his best," said Pluto. "That's the Donovan Mitchell they need in the playoffs. He's the key player heading into it. It isn't all about Donovan Mitchell, but if Donovan Mitchell isn't very good, they have no shot against Orlando."

Pluto said it helps that the Cavs have nearly a week to rest up for their first-round series against Orlando. And the Cavs are the more experienced team.

"Orlando is like the Cavs a year ago, kind of newbies to the playoffs. In fact, if anything, they're even younger than the Cavs were a year ago. Of their starters, they only have one guy who's actually been in the playoffs before, this guy named Gary Harris,” Pluto said.

"If Donovan Mitchell isn't very good, they have no shot against Orlando.”
Terry Pluto

The Cavs, meanwhile, have Donovan Mitchell, who has played in 44 playoff games, and they brought in seasoned players Max Strus and Georges Niang after last season’s five-game playoff exit against the New York Knicks.

“At one point Jared Allen admitted it felt (last year) like the lights were too bright,” Pluto said.

Allen is one of the players Pluto believes has improved since last season. Still, Pluto said the playoffs carry a different mindset.

“The tough thing about the NBA is you play six months, and you play 82 games. It's the regular season. But once you get to where the Cavs are now, where you've made the playoffs a couple times, your whole verdict now is defined by how you do in this seven-game series,” Pluto said.

That means the pressure is on, Pluto said.

“The Cavs now have the 11th oldest team in the NBA out of 30. Orlando has the fifth youngest. Now sometimes our greatest enemy is looking at us in the mirror. So, we'll see how they handle the pressure on this. It's time to win a round.”

Pluto gives a lot of credit to the front office — a group that is also feeling the pressure should they lose another first-round playoff series.

“I'm just hoping, because I think continuity could serve the Cavs well with Koby Altman as the team president and the general manager, Mike Gansey and then the coach JB Bickerstaff. They have brought this team out of the rubble of LeBron (James) leaving and no draft picks to the point where this is their second consecutive year in the playoffs. They've been very entertaining the last three years in the regular season,” Pluto.

Home court advantage will help, he said.

"The fans are ready," Pluto said. "But I think they're, like, a lot of Cleveland fans, they're nervous about this because they remember what happened last year."

Expertise: Audio storytelling, journalism and production