In-Season Tournament: Vital questions before Cavaliers final game

Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers
Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages
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Who is the favorite for the Wild Card?

Here are the current contenders for the East Wild Card, in order of point differential:

  • Milwaukee Bucks, +39
  • Orlando Magic (done playing), +22
  • New York Knicks, +18
  • Miami Heat, +11
  • Brooklyn Nets, +8
  • Cleveland Cavaliers, +6
  • Boston Celtics, +0

One of the Bucks/Heat/Knicks will win Group B, and one of the Magic/Nets/Celtics will win Group C, and the Wild Card will go to one of the remaining five teams. The Wild Card can only go to a second-place team, so if two teams tie in point differential for second-place in a group, their standing in the group is determined first, then their standing in the Wild Card.

Example: The Cavaliers beat the Hawks by 24 points, finishing with a point differential of +30. The Bucks, Heat and Knicks all finish 3-1, with the Bucks winning the group. The Heat are +32 and the Knicks are +28 in point differential, but because the Knicks hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Heat, they finish second in the group. They are then compared to the Cavaliers, who advance to the Wild Card on account of a better point differential.

What should Cavaliers fans be rooting for?

The Cavaliers first and foremost need to win against the Atlanta Hawks, and ideally by a large margin of victory. The bigger the win, the more likely they will win a tiebreaker to earn the Wild Card slot. Additionally, if they tie another team in point differential the tiebreaker will come down to total points scored, so a 130-115 win is more valuable than a 115-100 win.

From there, the ideal scenario is that the Knicks lose to the Hornets, the Heat lose to the Bucks, the Celtics lose to the Bulls and the Nets lose to the Raptors. In that scenario, the Magic and Bucks would win their groups, and the Cavaliers would be the only 3-1 team left and win the Wild Card.

If at least one other team finishes 3-1 it will come down to point differential, and the Cavs are near the back of the pack among potential Wild Card teams at +6. That will go up with a win, but it's more realistic for them to catch the Nets or Heat than it is the Bucks, who are +39.

That means that close wins by the Nets or even Knicks are not killers, but if the Heat beat the Bucks then the Cavs will be in trouble. Here's what to root for:

  • Best-case: Heat, Celtics, Nets, Knicks all lose
  • Most important: That the Bucks win their group, or are blown out by the Heat
  • Most dangerous: The Heat beating the Bucks in a close game, and the Knicks losing

Everything will go down at 7:30 PM ET; be sure to tune in and see the chaos unfold!

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