Most years a team that begins the season 7-13 can kiss the playoffs goodbye. The Cavs have the good fortune, however, to reside in the Eastern Conference, where most of the teams would have difficulty winning a rec league. Before the season, we all expected six teams to be decent: Miami, Indiana, Chicago, Atlanta, New York and Brooklyn. The Knicks and the Nets have been awful and show no indication that they will get better anytime soon. The Bulls have lost Derrick Rose, transforming a championship contender into a middle of the pack team.
What this means is that 12 of the 15 teams in the Eastern Conference have serious problems. What it means for the Cavs in particular is that 31 of the next 62 games are against those other 11 flawed teams. That doesn’t include games against some of the lesser teams in the Western Conference, or a chance to upset a couple of the top teams in the league, such as the most recent game against the Clippers and Nuggets. In other words, a whole lot of games remain that the Cavs could win if they maintain the momentum of the past four games.
So far, that has not been the case. In November the Cavs lost games to New Orleans, Washington, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Boston, plus twice to Charlotte. The failure to take care of business in winnable games could come back to haunt the Cavs in April. Let’s face it; the Cavs will be lucky to steal any wins against the Heat or the Pacers. Losing games against the teams at the bottom of the standings is an opportunity lost that can never be regained. If the Cavs have truly grown as a team and figured out how to win games, they will handle these next two games against the New York Knicks and Orlando Magic.
After the Heat and Pacers at the top of the East standings, the next six teams are within 1.5 games of each other. If the Cavs are 9-13 after these next two games, that group is within striking distance. The critical point is, not only are they two games out of eighth place, but they are three games from fourth place. If they manage to hold their ground against teams like New York and Orlando, the schedule will eventually give them an opportunity put together some winning streaks and catch some of those teams.
To be honest, given the way the season has progressed, I am none too interested in just slipping into the eighth seed. The eighth seed, after all, will play either Miami or Indiana, which will frankly be difficult to watch. The teams that get the fifth and sixth seeds will get first-round matchups where they at least have a chance to win a game or two and stick around long enough to understand what playoff basketball is all about. That is the only worthwhile objective for the season. If the Cavs can’t progress to that level, I would just as soon take my chances in the lottery again.