WASHINGTON — The Cavs’ streak is still going strong.
Despite an unexpectedly competitive battle with the rebuilding Washington Wizards, Cleveland won its seventh straight game on Wednesday night, 114-106. In all, it’s the Cavs’ 15th victory in the last 16 games — a stretch that has led to a rapid rise up the Eastern Conference standings. The nine-win Wizards have dropped four straight and 10 of the last 12.
“We have finally found our identity, who we are and what we can be,” Donovan Mitchell said. “We’re not the same team as last year. We play differently and have different guys. It takes time. Now, we are starting to figure it out and it’s a credit to everybody. Checking egos at the door. All of us have found our identity with that and we’re continuing to play the way we want to play. Everyone came in with the right intentions, it was just a matter of how.”
Prior to the game, Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff was asked about the franchise’s stance heading into Thursday’s trade deadline — the last real chance for teams to improve ahead of a second-half playoff push. Bickerstaff said he doesn’t see any reason to shake up this deep, talented and connected roster.
Tough to argue otherwise.
Wednesday wasn’t Cleveland’s best performance during this five-week heater. But it was good enough. Thanks in large part to Mitchell, who was once the subject of incessant early-season trade rumors. Mitchell’s play — and the Cavs’ response in the face of adversity — has shut all those down. Mitchell is a Cavalier. He is the team’s lone All-Star representative. And it shouldn’t be long before he starts gaining MVP traction.
Mitchell poured in a game-high 40 points on 14 of 25 shooting and 5 of 10 from 3-point range to go with eight rebounds and five assists in 38 dazzling minutes. With showstopping theatrics, Mitchell repeatedly delighted the crowd inside Capital One Arena that featured a plethora of Cavs fans in the corner above Cleveland’s bench.
It’s the fifth time this season that Mitchell, one of the NBA’s leading scorers, has reached the 40-point mark. It’s the 18th time in his Cavalier career hitting that number.
Young forward Evan Mobley, who remains on a minute restriction, chipped in with 22 points and eight rebounds while going 9 of 10 from the field in 25 minutes.
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Jarrett Allen — speaking with cleveland.com Wednesday morning about his latest All-Star snub, where he wasn’t chosen as an Eastern Conference injury replacement for Joel Embiid or Julius Randle — finished one rebound shy of a double-double. Allen tallied 12 points and nine boards.
In a game that had 17 lead changes and nine ties while being played within single digits until the final minutes, Cleveland won the decisive fourth quarter, 34-27. Unsurprisingly, Mitchell, the team’s unquestioned closer, poured in 14 in the fourth.
“That’s what a closer does,” Bickerstaff said of Mitchell. “He has earned that reputation because of fact and his ability to go out and do it time and time again. That’s why we trust to put the ball in his hands and have him make the play. We just have to make sure we’re better early so we don’t have to depend on his heroics all the time.”
Washington, which could offload some of its players before Thursday’s 3 p.m. buzzer, was led by Kyle Kuzma’s 28 points. Corey Kispert chipped in with 21 off the bench. Daniel Gafford tallied a double-double, scoring 14 points and grabbing 13 rebounds.
Wednesday night was the last chance for this group to send a message to the front office about staying together through the trade deadline.
It wasn’t a vociferous we-have-enough statement. But it was another victory — and each one makes it tougher for team decision-makers to consider any change, no matter how big or small, to a group that has lost just twice since the new year and has moved into the conversation of the league’s elite.
“I try not to judge our group on what is circulating around us, I just see our guys playing really good basketball and whatever the noise is, that’s not our focus,” Bickerstaff explained. “Our focus is how do we keep getting better and keep doing what has made us successful? That grit and competitiveness and that togetherness that we have been playing with, we focus on that. We have guys who are talented enough that good things are going to happen.”
The Cavs will continue their road trip with the first of a back-to-back matchup against the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
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