Breaking Down the Finer Points of the Wine & Gold’s Upcoming Campaign
1. The NBA’s opening night has been creeping back into October for the past few years now and, with the league’s new emphasis on players’ rest, the Wine & Gold will open at the earliest date since 1980-81, when Cleveland traveled to Boston to open the campaign.
It’ll be Boston again – making it the ninth time in franchise history the Cavs will tip off their season against the Celtics. It’s also the second straight year that the Cavaliers open up at The Q, but the first time since LeBron’s return that it won’t be the Knicks doing so.
Even with the game’s greatest player back in the fold, the Cavaliers have struggled on opening night – going 1-2 over the past three seasons. But the King shouldn’t feel too bad. The franchise has traditionally gotten out of the gate slowly – compiling a 14-33 record in openers dating back to the inaugural 1970-71 season.
2. For those who cover or work for the Wine & Gold – and travel throughout the season – the first thing that you check on the schedule is where the West Coast trip(s) are and how long they last.
This year, the Cavaliers make a pair of trips out West – a short one beginning on Christmas Day in Oakland and an extended six-game junket in early March. In most previous years, the big trip west of the Mississippi began and ended in early January.
As previously mentioned, the Cavaliers and Warriors will highlight the NBA’s Christmas Day docket. After their Finals rematch, the Cavaliers close out the calendar year with trips to Sacramento and Salt Lake City.
The West Coast trip in March is a different story. After a nice five-game homestand, it’s a difficult six-game, 11-day trip beginning with a visit to Denver on March 5 before sending the Cavs to L.A. for their annual Tinseltown tussle with the Clippers (3/9) and Lakers (3/11) and wrapping up with stops at Phoenix (3/13), Portland (3/15) and Chicago (3/17).
The Cavaliers play six of their first ten games at home and split their last five, home and road.
Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
3. The Cavaliers and Warriors facing off on Christmas Day has become as traditional a holiday event as Santa wriggling down the chimney or Flick getting his tongue stuck to the frozen flagpole. As long as the two combatants continue to tangle in the Finals, they can expect their next meeting to include next year’s Navidad.
Two Christmases ago, the two Finals foes locked up in a defensive struggle at Oracle Arena won by the Warriors. Last year, Kyrie Irving drilled a short jumper to give Cleveland the dramatic win at The Q.
Also for the third straight season, the same two squads face off on MLK Day – with the World Champs coming to Cleveland on January 15. Two years ago, Curry & Co. boat-raced the Cavaliers at The Q and gave them a similar 35-point drubbing in the final game of a six-game roadie last season.
For the second straight season, the Cavs play the night before and night after Thanksgiving – welcoming Brooklyn and Charlotte to Cleveland on November 22 and 24, respectively. Last year, Easter took place after the regular season wrapped up, but this year – on April 1 – the Cavs will take on Dallas at The Q. Ty Lue’s squad won’t play on New Year’s Eve this year, but they might still be too tired to celebrate – flying home that day following a three-game West Coast trip.
4. The NBA has made a concerted effort to take some of the city mileage off their players – and keep their superstars from sitting out national TV games – with this year’s schedule.
Gone are the rough stretches of four games in five nights and 18 games in 30 days, with a reduction in five games in seven nights, back-to-backs, single-game road trips and specifically, single-game trips over 2,000 miles. Overall, the NBA increased their number of weekend games to 568 after playing 549 last season.
The Cavaliers play six of their first ten games at home and split their last five, home and road. They’ll play 13 back-to-backs – five fewer than last season. Exactly half of all Cleveland’s 18 back-to-backs last year included a time zone change; this year, they’ll only play three of those.
5. Just because the schedule’s lightened up doesn’t mean the Cavaliers don’t have their share of difficult stretches.
The most difficult span is easy to pinpoint – and a West Coast trip is just a small part of what makes it so challenging. From December 17 through January 12, the Cavs play exactly two home games – a December 21 meeting with the Bulls and a home stopover against Portland on January 2 (with the second half of a back-to-back the following night in Boston).
During that hard Holiday stretch, the Cavaliers travel to Washington and Milwaukee, come home to face Chicago, travel west for three games beginning with their Christmas Day meeting in Oakland, come home for the Blazers (1/2) contest then hit the road for five straight beginning with Boston (1/3) then off to Orlando (1/6) and Minnesota (1/8) before wrapping up with a tough back-to-back against Toronto (1/11) and Indiana (1/12).
6. As the three-time reigning Conference champs, it’s only natural that the Wine & Gold are featured on national TV throughout the season – (including their first two outings: vs. Boston, [10/17]; at Milwaukee, [10/20]) – and this year is no exception.
As of now, the Cavaliers will play a dozen TNT games – including matchups with the Rockets (11/9), Lakers (12/14), Spurs (1/23), Thunder (2/13) and Heat (3/27). The Cavs will play on ABC four times this season – twice on Saturday (1/20 vs. OKC, 3:30 p.m. and 2/3 vs. Houston, 8:30) and in a pair of Sunday games (2/11 at Boston and 2/25 vs. San Antonio).
Cleveland will play 10 games on ESPN, beginning with the road opener and concluding with a March 30 matchup against Anthony Davis and the Pelicans.
The NBA had tried to keep their weekend schedule a little lighter to avoid competing with pro and college football. But with the new, elongated schedule, we’ll see an uptick in weekend contests.
Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
7. It’s always fun to circle the inter-Conference games when the schedule comes out. Matchups with the Warriors, Spurs, Rockets and Thunder are always must-see contests, but this year the West also features some interesting upstarts like the Timberwolves and Nuggets.
But the Cavaliers make their bones against the Eastern Conference – of which they’ve stood atop since LeBron’s return in 2014. Last season, the Cavs were 16-2 against the Atlantic Division. Over the Cleveland’s past three playoff appearances, they’ve gone 36-5 against the East – 18-2 at The Q.
Cleveland faces their top competitor in the Conference in the opener – one of just three meetings against Gordon Hayward and the new-look Celtics. And in terms of foes that Cleveland’s faced in the postseason over the last three years – they have three games against Toronto, play the Pacers four times before February, have a home-and-home against the Pistons in late January and face the Hawks three times before mid-December.
The Cavs will look to improve in the regular season against the Bulls, who’ve beaten Cleveland in eight of the last 10 meetings, including all four matchups last year. Chicago’s first appearance in Cleveland is October 24; the Cavs final appearance in Chicago is on St. Patrick’s Day.
8. In terms of Western Conference squads rolling into The Q, it’s a cavalcade of one top-flight team after another. But the Wine & Gold aren’t intimidated by what’s considered the league’s superior Conference – having compiled a 35-10 home record since 2014, including a 12-3 mark at The Q last season.
The Cavs have only three meetings against the West before December, but that includes a tough Texas two-step – traveling to face the high-octane Rockets in Houston on November 9, with a date against Dallas two nights later.
Lonzo Ball and the Lakers roll in on December 14 and the reigning MVP, Russell Westbrook, and his Thunder come to town on January 20 (followed immediately with a trip to San Antonio). Karl Anthony-Towns, Jimmy Butler and the new-and-improved T-Wolves make their lone appearance on February 7 and the Spurs return on the 25th.
The final Western Conference meeting of the season is Cleveland’s Easter Sunday matchup with Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks on April 1.
The league’s minimum miles traveled for any team this year 37,587 miles; the maximum is 49,907. The Wine & Gold will log 39,176 miles this upcoming season.
9. The NBA had tried to keep their weekend schedule a little lighter to avoid competing with pro and college football. But with the new, elongated schedule, we’ll see an uptick in weekend contests.
The Cavaliers actually will play one less weekend home game in 2017-18 than they did last year – playing 17 weekend contests this season – five Friday games, seven on Saturday and five on Sunday.
Last year, the Wine & Gold’s record on different days breaks down thusly: Monday (2-1 home / 2-6 away), Tuesday (6-1 / 2-2), Wednesday (4-3 / 3-5), Thursday (5-1 / 0-3), Friday (6-1 / 6-1), Saturday (4-3 / 4-2) and Sunday (4-0 / 3-2).
10. In the NBA’s wide world of analytics, there’s the “Fresh, Tired & Even Score” when breaking down a squad’s schedule.