Latest playoff implications for Cleveland Cavaliers after win against Indiana Pacers

The Cleveland Cavaliers' 129-120 win over the Indiana Pacers goes beyond a statement win on a division rival as the NBA approaches a dramatic regular season finale on Sunday.
Indiana Pacers v Cleveland Cavaliers
Indiana Pacers v Cleveland Cavaliers / Nick Cammett/GettyImages

With one game left in the regular season, the Cleveland Cavaliers have clinched a playoff birth, but much still hangs in the air surrounding the NBA playoffs and the Eastern Conference standings.

The Cavaliers fought through a disheartening stretch after the All-Star Break, playing five games in seven days during a brutal West Coast roadtrip. While Cleveland held the second seed with a two-game lead in the East heading into All-Star weekend, the Cavs briefly fell to the fifth spot. With a 12-16 record since the ASG, Cleveland's road to the playoffs has been anything but inspiring. Still, the Cavaliers guaranteed a top-six spot in the East with a win over the Indiana Pacers.

Following a 12-point victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, Cleveland took the court in Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse to host the Pacers. Indiana sits below the Cavs in the standings, entering the night as the six seed. Only one game separated the two squads, making for major influence in the final placement for both teams. It would be the Cavaliers' final regular season game against a team with a winning record, serving as the final true test of their resilience ahead of the postseason.

From the onset, the Cavaliers took control of the night. The Pacers had the first basket, but their 3-0 lead was their last. Cleveland held an 11-point lead by halftime built from electric chemistry and intensity on both ends of the court. The Cavs and Pacers attacked the paint, leading to a physical matchup with plenty of tension emerging throughout the night. Cleveland won the paint battle with 64 points in the paint compared to Indiana's 56 interior points. The Cavaliers narrowly won the rebound battle 41-39, pushing past the Pacers' desperate efforts to climb up past Cleveland in the rankings.

Indiana's physicality was equally met by Cleveland's frontcourt. Evan Mobley refused to back down to the Pacers. He came out swinging and punished numerous defensive errors from Indy. Mobley only slowed down once he found himself in foul trouble with three fouls before the break and five fouls by the final buzzer.

Donovan Mitchell led the night with 33 points, five assists and four steals. Jarrett Allen followed Mitchell's efforts with another double-double game, scoring 29 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. Despite some sloppy ball security, Darius Garland shined with 16 points and a game-clinching three-pointer in the final minute of play.

Not only did the Cavaliers' latest win preview a potential playoff matchup between the two midwest squads, but it also set Cleveland up for a possible leap in the standings with one game to go.

Playoff implications for the Cleveland Cavaliers

The NBA is in the midst of a golden era for parity across the league. For the last five seasons, the Association has crowned a new Finals champion each year. With so much talent spread across all 30 teams, each of the 82 games has more weight to a team's postseason destiny than ever before. Last year, the league saw the first-ever Play-In team reach the NBA Finals when the Miami Heat upset every rival in their way, including both the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics.

Now, as the regular season reaches the final game of the regular season campaign, the Cavaliers could leapfrog Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks one more time to claim the third spot in the East. On Sunday, April 14, both the Cavs and Bucks will play their final game. Currently, Milwaukee sits one game ahead of Cleveland with a 49-32 record compared to Cleveland's 48-33 record.

While the Cavaliers host the 20-61 Charlotte Hornets at home, the Bucks will go on the road to face the fiery 46-35 Orlando Magic. The Magic are fighting to stay above the Philadelphia 76ers for the coveted six spot. Needless to say, the Cavs will be in a much more favorable position to win their final game than Milwaukee. If the Cavaliers manage to tie their record with the Bucks at 49-33 on Sunday afternoon, Cleveland will win the tie breaker and push the Bucks from the second seed down to the four seed.

The Cavs hold the tie breaker over the Bucks due to the inaugural In-Season Tournament. Because the Bucks reached the knock-out rounds of the IST, they played division rival Indiana Pacers one extra time. The lost gave them a 2-3 record against the Pacers. This extra divisional loss pushed the Cavaliers ahead of Milwaukee in the case of a tied final record.

In this scenario, Cleveland would hold the three seed, and the New York Knicks would step up to second place. If the Knicks lose their final game to the Chicago Bulls, the Cavaliers would jump up to the second seed, relcaiming their prior glory from pre-ASG days. After all the recent losses and disappointing performances, Cleveland still holds onto hope to claim second place headed into the playoffs.

With the third spot, Cleveland would face one of the Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers or Indiana Pacers in the first round with homecourt advantage. All three aforementioned possible opponents are tied through 81 games. As the second seed, the Cavs add the Miami Heat to the list of possible round-one rivals. While the Cavaliers likely have their favorite option of the three, their ability to navigate their seeding for a more favorable matchup is nonexistent with the current three-way tie. At this point, the Cavs' best path forward is fighting to reclaim the three seed or two seed to get on the other side of the bracket and stave off a series against the Boston Celtics until the Eastern Conference Finals.

The level of parity and possible matchup changes left to be decided by the final game is a truly unique and exciting moment in league history, and this only covers what is happening out East. In the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder are all tied for the top seed in the conference.

From the top to bottom, the NBA regular season is coming to a thrilling finish. The Cleveland Cavaliers have much left to prove, and the time to prove it is finally here. Another playoff embarrassment could hold massive ramifications for the team's future, but a successful run in the postseason could equally elevate the Cavs to a new height.

dark. Next. 3 sleeper trade targets for the Cavaliers to pursue. 3 sleeper trade targets for the Cavaliers to pursue