If the regular season ended at the All-Star break, tonight's matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards in our nation's capital would be the exact set-up for Game 1 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Wizards are currently fourth in the East, with the Cavs just a half game back in fifth. They won't play each other again until the final game of the season in Cleveland. Either team could finish anywhere from 2nd to 5th in the East, and they have split the first two games they've played. In the event of identical records, head to head would be the first tiebreaker. So tonight matters.
And more on the playoff race. The Cavs have just 27 games remaining, and while they've won 14 of 16, are a full four games out of the second seed, with three teams ahead of them to get to that spot. That alone makes it difficult. As Justin pointed out, the Cavs remaining schedule isn't easy, and it doesn't ease up until March 13. How the team plays over the next three weeks will have a huge bearing on where they end up in the standings. If they can hang around .500, the schedule gets much easier for the last month.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers at Washington Wizards
Where: Verizon Center -- Washington, D.C.
When: 8:00 pm ET
How do I watch: ESPN
The Wizards have a pretty favorable schedule until the end of the season, but have been struggling a bit of late. Their record against teams with records above .500 isn't pretty, and Brad Beal is out indefinitely. The defense is the 7th best in the NBA, but they once again have a middling offense.
Guess John Wall just isn't that good. Randy Wittman inexplicably benches Marcin Gortat in the fourth quarter of games, and the defense predictably slides with him off the court. He's a solid rim protector, and they just signed him to a big extension, so it's pretty perplexing.
In all seriousness, the game starts with bothering John Wall. He's averaging 17+ points and 10+ assists per game. He affects the game defensively in a big way, but he can't guard LeBron James or Kevin Love. If Kyrie Irving can hang with Wall on the defensive at all, the Cavs have a good shot here, even on the road.
This game feels tough to predict. The Wizards are thin on the wing with Beal out, but both teams should be well rested and motivated for a national television game. A Cavs win would go a long way.
Fear the Sword Fearless Prediction: Cavs 107. Witless Wittman's Wizards 99.