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Can the Cleveland Cavaliers Find a Way to Sneak into Playoffs Over Final 11 Games?
Prior to last night’s comeback win over the New York Knicks, the playoff hope in Cleveland had seemingly dwindled away following yet another injury to Kyrie Irving. However, with the Cavaliers 5.5 games behind the Atlanta Hawks with 11 games left in the season, it seems the hope has seemingly returned for the last stretch of the season.
Sitting at 27-44 with the ninth worst record in the league, somehow the Cavaliers are still in the playoff picture thanks to the absolute mess at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. For comparisons sake, the Cavaliers would currently be 15 games out of the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoffs at this time.
Losers of 8 of their last 10 games, the Cavaliers actually do have an opportunity to make things interesting during their final 11 games of the season. The only major challenge is a home game against the Indiana Pacers, while the rest of their scheduled is comprised of Toronto, Detroit (twice), Brooklyn (twice), Orlando, Atlanta, Charlotte, Milwaukee and Boston. Though Toronto, Brooklyn, Charlotte and Atlanta are all playoff teams at this point, none of them are exactly a lock to beat the Cavaliers.
So how can a team without Irving find enough to make a playoff run this late in the season? It all starts with Jarrett Jack and Dion Waiters.
Last night this miraculous thing happened with Jack, he finally played like the Cavaliers expected him to play. Now the team wasn’t expecting 30-point performances, but his aggressiveness and ability to create and hit an open shot were something the team was expecting to happen from day one, not in game 71. With 31 points and 10 assists, Jack played like the veteran leader he was supposed to be when former general manager, Chris Grant, signed him in the offseason. If Jack can continued to play at a 17-point and eight assist clip in Irving’s absence, the Cavaliers would be much better off the rest of the season.
Outside of Jack, Waiters is the next most important person on this team. Once again flourishing in a starting role, Waiters has shot over 44 percent in his last three games (over 52 percent in his last two) and has posted scoring outputs of 22, 26 and 30 points. He has shown a tenaciousness and a willingness to belong as a starter, and has done very little to negate that point since stepping back into the starting lineup.
Realistically, it is going to be very tough for the Cavaliers to overtake the Atlanta Hawks or Charlotte Bobcats for one of the final two spots in the Eastern Conference, though. With the Knicks still playing very good basketball and 2.5 games ahead of the Cavaliers themselves, it would take winning 9-of-11 games and a pretty big slide from those teams to jump to the playoff picture.
On top of that, is a date with the Indiana Pacers or Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs really worth it at this point in the season? With expected impact scorers galore in the 2014 NBA Draft, is a first-round exit really worth missing out on a proven scorer to add to the Cavaliers lineup?
At this point, Cavaliers fans have endured the losing since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and are just hungry for something that would resemble a “successful season” in the eyes of some—thus the desire for just being in the playoffs. But reality has shown—take the Atlanta Hawks for example—that just being in the picture doesn’t do anything for your franchise if you are never a legitimate championship contender.
It may make us all warm and fuzzy inside, but the fact of the matter is the Cavaliers would be better off not making the playoffs this season and taking one final stab at landing a stud in the lottery. Losing is never something you want to advocate, but at this point what is another few weeks of it going to really do to the morale of an already beaten down fan base?
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