The Cleveland Cavaliers take on the Utah Jazz tonight starting at 7:30 PM tonight at home. The Cavs are coming off a huge upset win over the Oklahoma City Thunder where they came back from 12 down and dominated the league’s best team, according to record, in the fourth quarter. The win, and subsequent games, have the Cavaliers 4 games back of the 8th seed in the East and only 5.5 games back of the coveted 6th seed. Yet tonight feels like a must win game for the Cavaliers, but is it?
The Jazz are only 1 game worse then the Cavaliers but are far out of the playoffs in the West. Therefore the Jazz are looking to develop their young core while positioning themselves for a high lottery pick if possible. This should lean in the Cavs favor but the Jazz are full of talent. Trey Burke has begun to come on in his rookie campaign. Derrick Favors is a load in the paint and leads the team in rebounding and is third in scoring. Gordon Hayward is a steady wing who leads the team in scoring and is just behind Burke in assists. Alec Burke comes off the bench mostly and is the team’s second leading scorer. Enes Kanter provides bulk in the paint as well. Overall the team lacks a franchise caliber player in the mold of Kyrie Irving but has depth at multiple positions and size and girth down low. The Cavs won their only game against the Jazz earlier this year in Utah, 113-102. The Jazz had balanced scoring that night with 5 players in double figures, all 12 points or higher. A tough matchup for the Cavs but two teams with different motivations. The Jazz have won 2 games in a row following 3 losses. They are a up and down team of streaks, the Cavs have to hope they can start them on their way down.
We covered the Cavaliers remaining schedule around the All Star break. The nuts and bolts comes down to this: March is a killer month for the team. In that article we placed the best case scenario as the Cavs going 5-2 for the last 7 games of the month of February. That goal is not attainable but a win tonight and the Cavs ended the month at 4-3 heading into March, including a huge win over the Thunder without 3 of their top 8 or 9. The Cavs have 15 games in March with only 5 against teams that are currently under .500 but have better records then the Cavaliers. So all 15 games are against “better” teams including 10 against teams with winning records shooting for the playoffs. Best case scenario we can hope for is a winning record for the month, of 8-7. Going into that stretch, starting Saturday night on a back to back, with 2 wins in a row would be huge. If the Cavs can make it to April within shouting distance of the 8th seed, or hopefully the 6th seed, they can make a Indians type run with their easy finishing schedule.
While 4 games, or 5.5 games, is not a large number, with only 22 games remaining every game matters. A loss to the Jazz quickly can add a game to the gap. The Cavs have to keep the gap around 3, and no more then 4, going into April to even have a chance to make the playoffs. Crazy things happen but the Cavs have to take advantage. Atlanta for example has lost 9 of their last 10 and are in a spiral. The Pistons, just above the Cavs in the standing, have gone 4-6 in their last 10 while the Cavs are 7-3. The Cavs need to take advantage of that quickly. Every other team currently seeded 1-7 in the East has a winning record in their last 10 games. Thankfully for the Cavs the team right below them, the New York Knicks, also seem to be in a spiral going 2-8. The gap is an important piece of the puzzle to keep an eye. At the Q they have “The Diff” on the score board so fans know the difference in score, well “The Gap” is a primary concern for the Cavaliers.
These three things make tonight’s game as close to a must win as there can be at this point in the season. The Cavs won’t see any breaks in the month of March and need to beat the teams that they “should.” A loss tonight doesn’t end anything but it starts the team down a bad path with March tomorrow. It also impacts The Gap. What will you be feeling as you watch tonight’s game?
Tags: Cleveland Cavaliers