Cavs, Nets ready to apply playoff lessons in new season

The Cleveland Cavaliers enjoyed their best season of the second post-LeBron James era and then flopped in the first round.

The Brooklyn Nets retooled on the fly after trading two superstars and did not win a game in the playoffs.

Coming off their first 50-win season without James on the roster since 1992-93, the Cavaliers will begin a season of high expectations on Wednesday night when they travel to New York to face the Nets, who are starting their first full season with Mikal Bridges as their featured performer.

Cleveland won 51 games after improving to 44-38 in 2021-22, when its season ended with a play-in loss to the Atlanta Hawks. The Cavaliers made the leap into the top four of the East thanks to the addition of Donovan Mitchell, who averaged a career-high 28.3 points and shot a career-best 48.4 percent in 68 games.

In the playoffs, Mitchell averaged 23.2 points and shot 43.3 percent as the Cavaliers exited after five games against the New York Knicks. During their first postseason series since 2018, the Cavaliers were held to 94.2 points per game and shot 44.9 percent.

“The amount of preparation you could do in practice is great, but the only way we really learn is through experience,” Mitchell told reporters at media day. “It’s tough to say, but the best way to learn is through heartbreak and through the trials and tribulation of this game.”

Virtually everyone in Mitchell’s supporting cast is returning, including Darius Garland, who has averaged nearly 22 points in each of the past two seasons while improving his 3-point percentage from 38.3 percent to 41 percent.

The Cavs enhanced their depth by adding Max Strus from Miami via sign-and-trade in addition to signing Georges Niang in free agency.

Strus averaged a career-high 11.5 points and was 21st in the league with 197 3-pointers. He shot 35.9 percent from 3-point range in the first three rounds of the playoffs before faltering in the NBA Finals. Niang was a key reserve for the Philadelphia 76ers and has shot at least 40 percent from deep in five straight seasons.

The Nets won 45 games before getting swept in the first round by the 76ers. Brooklyn began last season with Steve Nash coaching Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and ended it with Jacque Vaughn on the bench.

Vaughn ended last season by coaching Bridges, Cameron Johnson, Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith, who were obtained in the deals for Durant and Irving.

Bridges averaged 26.1 points in 27 games with the Nets, who were 12-15 in those contests. In the playoffs, Bridges averaged 23.5 points as the Nets averaged 92.5 while getting swept out of the first round for the second straight season.

Johnson missed virtually all of the preseason with a left hamstring injury but returned to practice Saturday and is expected to play Wednesday.

Besides the full seasons from the returning players in the deals for Irving and Durant, the Nets are optimistic about Ben Simmons. The guard appeared in 42 games before being shut down with a back injury, but all indications point to him being healed, and the Nets are hoping to get some semblance of the guard who averaged 15.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists in four seasons with the 76ers.

“I’m excited for him that he’s healthy. I know he’s happy as hell that he feels good,” Bridges told reporters at media day. “We’re going to need him. He’s a big part of this team.”