This has been the weirdest season. The Cavaliers have had to deal with growing pains, Andrew Bynum temper tantrums, maddeningly inconsistent play from free agent signings Earl Clark and Jarrett Jack, injuries to Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, C.J. Miles, Anderson Varejao, Tyler Zeller, etc. Mike Brown has been scrambling all year to find guys that would make the extra pass, that wouldn't let bad offense lead to bad defense.
It's been nuts. And that only scratches the surface of everything the Cavaliers have gone through. None of it matters anymore, though. Seven games remain on the schedule, and the Cavaliers have a chance to make good on the goal Dan and Nick Gilbert set for the organization at the NBA draft lottery: make the playoffs. Win six of their last seven, and the Cavaliers could find themselves playing the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers in a seven game series. The team is 30-45, so it's a tall task regardless of the competition.
In reality, the Cavaliers have been having playoff games for the last few weeks, and it sure feels like they have responded. Regardless of whether or not the playoffs happen, we've seen steps forward from Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller, Matthew Dellavedova, and yes, even Tristan Thompson. Kyrie Irving's return appears imminent. Let's see what the kids can do.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (30-45) at Orlando Magic (21-53)
When: 7:00 ET
Where: Amway Center -- Orlando, Florida
Where can I watch? Fox Sports Ohio, NBA League Pass
yep RT @WayneEmbrysKids: TONIGHT IS THE BIGGEST CAVS GAME IN 4 LONG ASS YEARS— Conrad Kaczmarek (@ConradKazNBA) April 2, 2014
After shootaround, #Cavs still listing Kyrie Irving as a game-time decision tonight at Magic— M.S. Boyer/J. Valade (@PDcavsinsider) April 2, 2014
I think he will play. Mike Brown has said that he will start if he's ready to go. This leaves Jarrett Jack and Dion Waiters vying for the second starting guard spot. Both have played pretty well of late. There has been a lot of talk about the fact that Waiters deserves the starting role. I think Jack could say something similar.
Ultimately, I want Dion Waiters starting. But it's more complicated than that. Mike Brown has handled Waiters in a way that has him playing well right when the Cavs need him. For all the talk of Waiters playing well in Irving's absence, he was actually playing better in the couple weeks preceding Irving's injury.
In 8 games without Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters shooting 44/27/71. 2:1 assist turnover ratio. Great from midrange. pic.twitter.com/aXDIpAPcly
— David Zavac (@DavidZavac) March 31, 2014
Dion in 19 games before KI injury: 46/39/62 (55% in RA, 42% mid-range) 2.7 asts & rebs in 25min. Since - 44/27/71 (48%, 53%) 5 & 3 in 40mins
— Nominataur (@Nominataur) March 31, 2014
I offer this as evidence of two things: One, Dion Waiters is developing nicely. I think a big part of that development has come with Waiters coming off the bench. Him returning to that role, if Brown thinks it's best for the Cavs, seems fair to me. Two, if Waiters or the Cavs play poorly tonight, I don't think it will be a Kyrie Irving issue. Maybe it will, but the two were both playing pretty well before Kyrie got hurt.
Ultimately, this is going to be a really fun test for Cleveland. It's a road game, and they can't take it for granted. But it'd be great to see the team capitalize on this opportunity and make Friday nights game in Atlanta must-see television.
The Orlando Magic aren't likely to roll over. They are coming off a loss to the Toronto Raptors, but had impressive wins over the Charlotte Bobcats and Portland Trailblazers before that. Nikola Vucevic was named the Eastern Conference's Player of the Week for March 24-30 on the strength of 22.7 points and 14.3 rebounds in a three game stretch. Anderson Varejao is out, so Spencer Hawes, Thompson, and Zeller are going to have to step up. I think they can do it.
Fear the Sword's Fearless Prediction: The Cavaliers get out to a fast start, and coast to an easy road victory. Why not? Cavs 101, Magic 88.