1. Dean Wade and the Cavaliers' perimeter guys are defending (so far)
Get to know Dean Wade. He doesn't shoot much, or do any one thing at a super-high level. But good things happen when he's on the floor -- and have since the Cavaliers scooped him up on a two-way contract. He's one of those jack-of-all-trades role players who fit any lineup.
That starts with shooting and defense. Wade has hit 38% of his career 3s, including a scorching 18-of-36 this season. He moves without the ball, and makes the next pass in the chain -- fast.
He has been a plus defender across the middle of the positional spectrum. He can jostle with power forwards, and work as a stopgap against apex wings; Wade did not look out of his depth guarding Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown for stretches of overtime wins against the Boston Celtics. The Cavs slotted him into the starting lineup when Darius Garland was out; that group is plus-22 in 54 minutes.
Even after consecutive losses, Cleveland is No. 3 in points allowed per possession. Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen barricade the rim. Opponents are shooting just 45% at the basket with Allen nearby, an elite mark for defenders. He's rebounding at career-best levels; the Cavs are No. 1 in defensive rebounding rate by a mile.
Mobley is an all-court, all-position wrecker, perhaps Cleveland's best antidote to Tatum and Brown types. (And, yes, it's a disaster Isaac Okoro is an afterthought here.)
We knew what those guys would do. The perimeter guys would be the difference between Cleveland being good and great on defense. Garland, Donovan Mitchell, and Caris LeVert had earned reputations as below-average defenders before this season. All three are grinding now. Garland is slithery and smart. Mitchell and LeVert have amped the physicality way up.
Everyone is nailing the subtle things that drive winning: