Will the real Cleveland Cavaliers please stand up?

    Kirk Goldsberry (@kirkgoldsberry) is a professor and an NBA analyst for ESPN.

We’re only one month into the season, but the Cleveland Cavaliers have been on quite the roller-coaster ride.

Nine days ago, the Cavaliers looked like one of the best teams in the NBA. They had won eight straight games, including two statement wins against the Boston Celtics, the defending Eastern Conference champions. Cleveland’s big offseason acquisition, Donovan Mitchell, had instant chemistry not only with fellow All-Star guard Darius Garland but with the entire team, turning the Cavs into a scoring machine. They were arguably the NBA’s most balanced team early, posting the best net rating in the league thanks to elite statistical markers on both ends of the court.

But then they took their feel-good vibes out to California, and got a huge dose of humility.

The early-November trip started well enough, with a win against old friend LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, but the next night saw the Cavs blow a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter against the LA Clippers. That was followed by a troubling defeat against the Sacramento Kings, another fourth-quarter meltdown against Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors and a first-half no-show back at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Now the Cavaliers (8-5) have lost four in a row heading into Wednesday’s high-profile test against the first-place Milwaukee Bucks. Cleveland’s season has been a whirlwind, and there is no shortage of hot takes by the lake, but the key question looms: Is this team a contender or a pretender?

There are four big reasons for Cavaliers fans to remain optimistic about their team’s chances to return to the playoffs for the first time without LeBron James on the roster since 1998 and make some noise once they’re there.

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