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Can the Cleveland Cavaliers Realistically Overtake the Atlanta Hawks for the No. 8 Seed?
Winners of four of their last five games, Mike Brown and the Cleveland Cavaliers suddenly find themselves just three games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Whether you want the Cavaliers to make the postseason or not, the task at hand isn’t as long of a shot as it was just a month ago.
The Cavaliers have seven games left on their regular season schedule. Three of those games will be against teams currently slated to make the playoffs (Brooklyn, Charlotte and Atlanta), but the Cavaliers will host two of those two games in the friendly confines of Quicken Loans Arena. Of the remaining four games, Brown’s group pulled a rabbit out of their hat against three of the worst teams in the NBA—Boston, Orlando and lowly Milwaukee. With the Bucks firmly in the driver seat to win the lottery, do not expect much fight out of them.
On the other hand, the Hawks do not have the easiest slate in their final nine games of the season. Despite playing six of their remaining nine at home, the Hawks have to take on Chicago, Cleveland, Indiana, Brooklyn, Miami and Charlotte in those nine games—all teams in the playoff picture. Their “easy” games will come against Detroit, Boston and Milwaukee.
Many would think the Hawks can win four of nine games, but they have lost six of their lost seven games on the season—some against lesser opponents. The slide has thrown them into a tailspin from a 31-35 record on March 18th to a 32-41 record heading into Wednesday night’s contest against the Bulls, a team vying for the No. 3 seed as they are in a tie with Toronto currently.
If the Cavaliers are going to find their way into the playoffs, Dion Waiters is going to have to continue his current pace regardless if Kyrie Irving returns to the team or not. Waiters has been a man possessed since Irving went down, scoring 20 or more points in five of the team’s last seven games. The second-year guard out of Syracuse is a major reason why the team has won four of their last five.
With Waiters taking control, if Irving comes back the Cavaliers should not send Waiters back to the bench. Instead, they should change the offense to have Irving play off the ball more. This will keep the offense at the current pace and comfort level they have been at for a while now, with Waiters running the show.
It may end up being tough for Irving to take at first, but his game is better suited to play off the ball down the stretch. If he can buy into Waiters being the facilitator, Irving’s jump shot could be deadly with the floor spacing that will be provided. Not to mention keeping Irving away from driving and crashing into defenders when he is still nursing injuries is always a solid plan.
Can the Cavaliers overtake the Hawks? This writer is still saying no, but it is going to be a fun finish to the season for fans who have had very little to root for since LeBron James left town. And who knows, things could get interesting if the Hawks lose tomorrow night to the Bulls and the Cavaliers win, which would set up a showdown in Atlanta on Friday night.
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