The Cleveland Cavaliers are starting to come together as their Playoff Hopes are sill alive. While they have to climb over both the Atlanta Hawks and the New York Knicks this Cavs team has been playing a style that shows they could do it. That and their remaining, Cleveland Indians push for the Wild Card, schedule makes April basketball fun again in Cleveland. Lets start with a few things about last nights game and then look forward some:
The Cavs Moved the Ball on Offense
With Kyrie Irving returning, and Dion Waiters staying the starting lineup, there was some concern that the two players would struggle to play off each other. Instead they may go back to taking turns running the team. Instead we saw a team who moved the ball, moved without the ball and attempted to find each other open. Spencer Hawes set the tone as a passing big man early in the game but Irving and Waiters, along with Jarrett Jack and Matthew Dellavedova, pushed the ball in transition often. This led to Magic players being on their heels and unable to set their defense. As the ball moved a player moved. Great team basketball.
Interior Passing Cause Problems on Defense
A Achilles heel for the Cavs defense is interior passing. Whether that is a big man dropping a pass in from the foul line or finding each other closer to the hoop the Cavs have struggled with big man to big man passing. The lack of a weakside defender who can contest shots is part of the issue. More players have to rally to the ball down low leaving their men available for easy passes that lead to layups and dunks. This also has caused problems with kickouts to 3 point shooters that have tortured the Cavs all year long. In the draft, if they don’t come away with a dead eye shooter, a shot blocker would be a nice fit for the team.
Playing Like You Deserve to Win
The Cavs knew they should win this game, but in games past when that was true they didn’t play like. Last night they played like they owned the Magic. Ran their sets, played some pressure defense and tried to take the game away as early as possible. They didn’t come out ultra slow in the 3rd quarter either. That sense of urgency has been needed all year but wasn’t there. The Cavs see the light at the end of the tunnel and for the first time in years it is not a train ready to run them over, instead it is a shot at the playoffs. They are acting like professionals, the influence of Jack and Luol Deng is pretty obvious, and the buy in to Mike Brown has taken hold.
The Cavs have 6 games remaining and none bigger then Friday night’s game against the Hawks. A win there puts the teams in a tie for 9th behind the Knicks, depending on what the Knicks do. Having only 1 team to jump with 5 games remaining is much more conceivable then 2. After that the Cavs face the Bobcats, Pistons, Bucks, Celtics and Nets in order. The Bobcats are close to locking up their playoff spot and are 2 games back of the Wizards for the 6th spot. They still will have something to play for in that game. The Nets will more then likely have their starters resting the last game of the season as they settle in to either the 5th or 6th seed, making that game far more winnable. The Pistons, Bucks and Celtics are all lottery teams.
The Hawks remaining schedule, besides Friday’s game with the Cavs, includes the Pacers, Pistons, Celtics, Nets, Heat, Bobcats and Bucks. Games against the Pacers, Heat and Nets should all have playoff implications for those teams which should lead to Hawk losses. The Bobcats could be fighting for seeding but could look to sit their players against the Hawks as well. The Hawks do have 8 games to try to win more games then either the Knicks or the Cavs.
The Knicks have 6 games remaining as well including a big matchup against the playoff bound Wizards Friday night. A loss by the Knicks and a win by the Cavs Friday would put the Cavs 1 game behind the Knicks and in a virtual tie with the Hawks. The Knicks then have the playoff bound Heat, Raptors, Bulls and Nets before finishing off with the Raptors. At that point the Raptors could look to rest some players, but with a young roster are much less likely.
All in all the Cavs have the easiest looking schedule remaining. A win Friday and a Knicks loss throws everything up in the air. From the looks of the schedule if the Cavs win out they should have a great shot at taking that 8th seed setting up a matchup with either the Pacers or the Heat. Fun times in Cleveland indeed.