The Cleveland Cavaliers, coming in on the strength of two straight wins, were playing to keep its playoff hopes alive against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday. In those two wins, the Cavaliers had convincingly beaten two teams, the Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic, that had given them trouble earlier in the season.
As a result, the Cavaliers had momentum heading into Friday’s contest. From the get go, Atlanta looked liked the far superior team. Despite some runs that dented into the Hawks’ often massive lead, the Cavaliers were unable to find the success had sparked the two previous wins. After 48 minutes, Cleveland found itself on the wrong end of a 117-98. The loss put the Cavaliers three games out of the East’s final playoff spot (held by the Hawks) and likely ends any hope of reaching the playoffs this season.
Dion Waiters led the Cavaliers with 23 points. Atlanta reserve forward Mike Scott led scorers with 26 points. Spencer Hawes and Kyrie Irving had 16 and 13 points for Cleveland, respectively.
The Cavaliers problems were mostly the result of a poor first quarter. Atlanta started the game hot, getting open look after open look. Conversely, the Cavaliers struggled to get into any sort of a rhythm. Atlanta, as it tends to do, consistently moved the ball around the wing to create openings in the Cleveland defense.
Atlanta’s formula – pass to the open man, pass again if necessary, shoot, then rinse and repeat – was the same formula it used when these two teams met back in December. The Hawks did not blow the Cavaliers out as badly this time out, but it was close. And as a result, the Cavaliers now find themselves, barring a string of wins and some sheer dumb luck, the end of any playoff hopes.
Normally, this is where you’d get roster analysis, but with this game have a sense of finality to it, here are five thoughts on the current state of the Cavaliers.
1. Moving towards next year, I think it’s clear that the Cavaliers have some fairly major holes to fill. Despite Mike Brown being a defensive coach, this team struggles against teams that can move the ball and either A) get inside or B) get open threes. Part of the problem here is that the Cavaliers best two perimeter defenders (Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters) aren’t great defenders. Still, I think some upgrades are in order.
2. If you asked me who I would give an MVP award to for this season, I would pick Dion Waiters. The obvious pick would be Irving, but Dion was the guy who carried them threw the handful of games Irving had missed and seems to the be emotional leader in the locker room.
3. But moving forward, I have very little doubt that Irving and Waiters can coexist. Provided their minutes are staggered and Waiters can develop a little more off the ball, I think the Cavaliers already have the backcourt of the future.
4. Still, this summer will be huge for the Cleveland. They’ll first need to hire the right GM, aka not Isiah Thomas. They’ll then need to get a player at the back end of the lottery (as they currently have just a 1.7 percent chance of landing the top overall pick) and then fill the other holes in free agency. This doesn’t even begin to mention the need to resign Irving, figure out what to do with Tristan Thompson and so many other players.
5. How I’ll remember the 2013-2014 Cavaliers in one word: Chaotic.