The Cleveland Cavaliers fell just short of their goal on Tuesday night. They did pick up a win against the Atlanta Hawks, walloping their Eastern Conference rivals to the tune of a 128-105 final score. Alas, it was not quite enough to qualify for the Knockout Stage of the In-Season Tournament, as they finished 3-1 with a +29 point differential, losing the tiebreaker to the New York Knicks for the Wild Card slot (New York had a +41 point differential after their shellacking of the Charlotte Hornets).
The Cavaliers as an organization seemed disappointed that they weren't moving on for a chance to play in Las Vegas for the Final Four of the In-Season Tournament. Multiple players seemed genuinely invested in the competition, and on a night when the Cavs needed to win big they stepped up to the plate.
They may not be moving on to the quarterfinals, but there is still basketball to be played. While the eight teams advancing in the "IST" will play one another next week, the other 22 teams in the NBA needed their schedules filled out. The league worked furiously to pair everyone up in the hours following Tuesday night's games and by the time most Americans woke up on Wednesday morning the schedule was in place.
Each team eliminated already from the tournament had two games added to their schedule, one at home and one on the road. These games were non-divisional conference games (in almost every case; an odd number of teams in each conference meant a couple teams crossed the conference line), so the Cavaliers knew which teams would be in the running.
Ideally, a team would get a pair of easy opponents added to the schedule that also minimized their travel. For Cleveland, they may have hoped to host the Charlotte Hornets and then fly to Washington D.C. or Toronto.
Unfortunately, the Cavaliers drew the short end of the straw. Boston, Milwaukee and New York all advanced in the tournament, and the Cavaliers were already scheduled to play Philadelphia four times this season (and they were in the same tournament group) so the toughest opponent they could have drawn was likely the Miami Heat, and the longest distance they would have to travel was...also to Miami, roughly 1,250 miles away from Cleveland.
That's exactly the road game the Cavaliers added, a December 8th trip all the way to South Beach. The Heat recently punctuated a six-game winning streak with a blowout win over the Cavs at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. Cleveland will hope it has its full complement of players when it flies down to Miami next week.
The other game added is no walk in the park, either. It won't be Washington or Charlotte coming to town. Instead, the white-hot Orlando Magic, winners of eight-straight games and the current second-place team in the Eastern Conference, will roll up to the Fieldhouse looking to continue their hot start to the season.
The Cavaliers currently stand in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Of the seven teams above them in the standings, four advanced in the tournament and one (Philadelphia) was already on the schedule four times. Based on the guidelines the NBA stated it was going to use, there is literally no more difficult draw for the Cavs than the one that they received.
That doesn't mean the Cavaliers can't win both games and continue marching back up the standings. It doesn't mean playing formidable opponents won't be a helpful measuring stick for this group. The Magic weren't expected to be this good; perhaps the Cavs can help take the bloom off of the rose.
The schedule-makers certainly didn't do Cleveland any favors, though. The 76ers get to take a train down to D.C. and then host the reeling Hawks; the Cavs would have loved that draw. Now they'll need to be at the top of their game to not let these newly-added games knock them down.