Cavs are still fueled by last season's letdown. How much of it drives them? 'All of it'

Nate Ulrich
Akron Beacon Journal
Cleveland Cavaliers' Darius Garland (10) screams as his team takes a 16 point lead over the Phoenix Suns late during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Phoenix, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

INDEPENDENCE — As the Cavaliers gear up for the NBA playoffs , their players who endured the team's elimination from last year's Play-In Tournament are still holding onto motivation stemming from the late-season letdown.

How much?

“All of it,” point guard Darius Garland said after Wednesday's practice. “It's a long time from last year to now, so it's been always on my mind.”

Last week, small forward Cedi Osman said he knew the disappointment of last season ending with back-to-back losses to the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks would drive the Cavs to where they are now — on the verge of beginning their first playoff series since 2018.

“That made us even more hungry,” Osman said, “so that's why I didn't have any doubts about it.”

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Cleveland Cavaliers forward Isaac Okoro (35) and forward Cedi Osman, center right, celebrate after defeating the Brooklyn Nets, Thursday, March 23, 2023, in New York.

Obviously, trading for All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell in September was a franchise-altering move for the Eastern Conference's fourth-seeded Cavaliers (51-31).

But you get the point. The players who returned from last season are determined as they prepare for a best-of-seven series against the fifth-seeded New York Knicks (47-35). Tipoff for Game 1 is set for 6 p.m. Saturday at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse .

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“There's the emotion of having failed in a big moment that brings together a collective spirit to not allow that to happen again,” Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said.

“When our guys came in to start this season, what happened to us last year resonated, and this group wanted to continue to get better. And they show that with their actions.

“You watch how hard they work, you watch how hard they compete, how selfless they are, and I think those are the things to me that stand out, that let us know that they are working to improve and are extremely hungry.”

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Cleveland Cavaliers forward Isaac Okoro (35) drives against Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden (1) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, March 15, 2023, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Cavs' Isaac Okoro, Knicks' Julius Randle participate some in practice

Cavs starting small forward Isaac Okoro participated in some parts of Wednesday's practice and is still considered day to day, Bickerstaff said. Okoro sat out the final six games of the regular season with a left knee injury.

“He looks good, and with what he's going through, it's always about the response the next day,” Bickerstaff said. “We'll be patient.

“We feel like he's progressing, but you never know when a flare-up can happen. We'll just make sure he's doing OK, and we'll be safe by him all the time.”

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Knicks All-Star Julius Randle has been a limited practice participant, too, but the power forward who missed the final five games of the regular season with a sprained ankle has yet to participate in drills with contact, coach Tom Thibodeau told New York reporters.

Both Okoro and Randle were sidelined when the visiting Knicks defeated the Cavs 130-116 on March 31 to claim the regular-season series between the teams 3-1.

Cleveland Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff calls out to his players from courtside during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat, Friday, March 10, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Cavs use crowd noise at practice to simulate playoff atmosphere

Garland explained the Cavs were forced to ensure they were “communicating a lot louder” during Wednesday's practice.

The reason?

The team played crowd noise at Cleveland Clinic Courts in an attempt to simulate a playoff atmosphere, something Garland is eager to feel.

“You can feel the intensity of the city coming around,” Garland said.

Garland added he wants a loud home crowd in downtown Cleveland.

“You shouldn't miss this,” he said. “So everybody should be excited.”

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Darius Garland (10) drives against New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, March 31, 2023, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Nate Ulrich can be reached at On Twitter: @ByNateUlrich .