This weekend was a real punch to the gut for the Cavaliers. Facing the 7th seed Charlotte Bobcats, and the (then) 10th seed New York Knicks -- they lost two close and winnable games. Yet somehow, they are alive. Obviously their chances are slim, but this conference has managed to be so downtrodden this year that the 24 win team that has lost 4 games in row is only 3.5 games out of a playoff spot.
Let's take a look at the landscape of this barren hellscape that we call the Eastern Conference.
8th Seed - Atlanta Hawks (26-35)
Atlanta is in a tailspin and has lost 6 in a row, and 14 of 15. Al Horford is injured, Lou Williams has fallen out of the teams rotation, and an already thin team looks exhausted. All Star Paul Millsap has returned from injury and played two games, but even with him they are undersized, and giving big minutes to Shelvin Mack, Pero Antic, Cartier Martin, and Mike Scott.
Next 10 games: @Utah, Milwaukee, Denver, @Charlotte, Toronto, New Orleans, @Toronto, Phoenix , @Minnesota, Portland
9th Seed - Detroit Pistons (24-39)
Since February 1st Detroit is 6-12 and is giving up 106 points a game. Other than Josh Smith, the team doesn't really have any above average defenders. Starting point guard Brandon Jennings, who shoots 37% from the field, inexplicably shoots 15 shots per game. Like most rookies, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has struggled to find his footing and mostly fallen out of the rotation leaving forward Kyle Singler playing a lot of minutes at guard. Center Andre Drummond is undeniably one of the best young players and rebounders in the game, but is a functionally terrible defender due to struggles with awareness and positioning. In todays fast pace dribble drive game, the Pistons oversized lineup of mediocre defenders has struggled.
Next 10 games: Sacramento, @Toronto, Indiana, @Denver, @Phoenix, @LA Clippers, @Utah, Cleveland, Miami, @Philadelphia
10th Seed - New York Knicks (24-40)
The Knicks have won 4 straight, but could fall apart seemingly any time, or not, they're quite talented. Carmelo Anthony is still incredible, and Amare Stoudemire is starting to get big minutes (and play well in them too). Their season probably rests on him too, since Jeremy Tyler and Earl Clark are his backups. In their recent win, Amare and Tyson Chandler both dominated the Cavaliers front line. They will need them to continue playing that way to pass Atlanta.
Next 10 games: Philadelphia, @Boston, Milwaukee, Indiana, @Philadelphia, Cleveland, @LA Lakers, @Sacramento,@Golden State, Utah
11th Seed - Cleveland Cavaliers (24-40)
So here we are. Losers of 4 in a row with a horrible schedule and an inconsistent team. The upcoming schedule on paper seems like they shouldn't even bother. After beginning the season with inconsistent efforts and good health, the team flipped that script. The team just got Dion Waiters back, and is still without CJ Miles. Center Anderson Varejao played 9 minutes against the Knicks, but with back problems his status is in probably in question for the remainder of the season.
Inconsistency, as mentioned, remains the biggest problem. Other than Kyrie Irving and the offense of Spencer Hawes the Cavs haven't really been able to rely on anybody. Dion Waiters has looked good since his return but only played 14 minutes against New York. The Cavs front court players who haven't been mentioned; Tyler Zeller, Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett, and Luol Deng, all range from awful to good depending on the game. In his last 42 minutes, Anthony Bennett has 3 rebounds, which is unacceptable. His ceiling remains sky high, but his play has slipped since his small break out recently. Tyler Zeller has been good enough offensively, but defense and rebounding continues to be an issue. Thompson, who had been excelling with Hawes on the court, has just struggled in general for his past 4 games averaging 10 points and 7 rebounds per contest.
The guards aren't much better off. Irving is spectacular and Waiters is consistently at least average and sometimes spectacular as well. Otherwise, the steady but steadily maddening Jarrett Jack has gotten the call at shooting guard, with the only other option being Matthew Dellavedova, who has averaged more shots than points for close to three months. The team is really missing CJ Miles.
For every two steps the Cavaliers seem to take forward, they take a few more back. Their next 10 games are horrible, but they will probably win a few. That's when they'll drop an easy one or two. Regardless, I have come to terms with whatever the season brings. Maybe the Cavs lose a lot, they will get a great prospect. If they make the playoffs, they will get some important experience. They have shown they are talented enough to play with good teams, but with their injuries and tough schedule they don't need to "tank" to end up in the high lottery, and doing so organically is fine with me. Or the other thing. Who really knows?
Next 10 Games: @Phoenix, @Golden State, @LA Clippers, Miami, Oklahoma City, Houston, @New York, Toronto, @Detroit, @Brooklyn.
So does anyone actually want this playoff spot? The Knicks, probably, they're the oldest and don't have cap space or draft picks anytime soon. Who knows though, all of these teams are bad. One of them will be less bad more often than the others and make it. Probably.