PHOENIX, AZ - JANUARY 12: The Cleveland Cavaliers stand attended for the National Anthem before the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on January 12, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Cavaliers defeated the Suns 101-90. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
With the ugliness at the bottom of the current Eastern Conference it's time to admit something nobody (including me) wants to hear yet. The 2011-2012 Cleveland Cavaliers are playoff contenders if this roster stays together for the entire season. Pull the plug on this idea should Antawn Jamison or Anderson Varejao get traded or a major player goes down, but for the time being they're absolutely in the mix.
I want the Cavs to lose a lot of games this year. It's simply obvious that it's best for the future of the franchise. It's not like I want them to lose with this team currently getting the burn. I want them to play Tristan Thompson 30 minutes a night over Jamison and unfortunately at this point that means we'd lose more. So indirectly, I want us to lose because it would happen. I'm also rooting for Varejao to get traded and in an odd way that means I want us to lose because that move too (assuming it brought back primarily a draft pick) would cause more losing.
It's the eye for the future and the Kyrie Irving days ahead that brings forth this mindset. But in the present day there is no doubt this team is a contender for the 8th playoff spot but not a single place higher.
Let's check out how this is possible after the jump.
There are 15 teams in the Eastern Conference and squinting through my Wine and Gold tinted glasses I'd absolutely take Cleveland to best the Toronto Raptors, New Jersey Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Wizards in the standings come season's end.
Thus, there are just 8 other teams who Byron Scott's Cavs are fighting with for the final playoff positions.
Philadelphia has played some stunning hoops to start out the season. I think from what they've shown this year (Spencer Hawes I'm looking at you) I expect them to still make the postseason easily.
New York is going to be full of drama and Mike D'Antoni rumors for the duration of the season but they've still got enough talent, especially when Boom Dizzle comes back, to earn a berth.
Boston looks pretty rough so far. They never were much more than an average offensive team combined with ferocious defense in their peak days. But now they are below average defensively and aren't scoring better than the past. This is going to be more of a struggle for them than most realized. But, they should have enough.
Chicago is a lock for a playoff spot.
Indiana barely slipped by the Cavs in their early season matchup. They've got more tools than Cleveland but they aren't guaranteed to find a way in.
Miami is a lock for a playoff spot.
Orlando will be in should Dwight Howard stick around, although they won't go far. But if he's gone they potentially could fall quite a bit. Anyways, it's tough to see them dropping.
Atlanta just lost their best player for 3-4 months which is a devastating blow. They missed a big opportunity to beat the Heat without LeBron James and Dwyane Wade recently but they've played well other than that. We all know they're not a threat once in but they were pretty much a lock if Horford and Co. didn't get hurt.
Most of the teams in this group have some flaws and while it looks crazy to see the Cavaliers sneaking in to claim the 8th and final seed something catastrophic could happen to any of the other teams which could cause them to slip out.
It's not 50/50 at all and I wouldn't come close to betting on it but if I had to pick somebody to keep up with the teams I just listed and battle for the 8th/9th spot it would definitely be Cleveland.
In the NBA system it's not necessarily a good thing to be the best of the worst so I hope Scott gets some of his vets out of town and the team slips down a bit because they truly do need another pick or we'll end up soon enough in that 36-46 (or equivalent) muck which is no fun.
Who do you think has the best chance of putting up a fight for the right to play the Miami Heat in April?