The Cleveland Cavaliers face the Washington Wizards tonight, and they’ll need a win to remain in third place in the East. Yes, defending conference champions are third. And that’s not even all that safe.
The energy that Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid—who is currently out with a broken bone near his eye—have brought to the court have the Philadelphia 76ers tied with LeBron James and the Cleveland squad at 48–30. The day after their showdown with the Wizards, the Cavaliers travel to Philadelphia to face the Sixers in another game with huge playoff implications.
The Cavs have been a mess all season. They’ve had injuries and made trades that were less than desirable because they created early season uncertainty. Kyrie Irving wanted out and went to Boston; Isaiah Thomas made a brief stop in Cleveland before he was shipped to the Lakers; Dwyane Wade also hung around for half the season before heading back to his flagship team, the Miami Heat. The Cavs cracked, and Boston and Toronto jumped into the spotlight.
The Cavs are in the playoffs, but just how far will they go?
Where will they finish the regular season? Even with Philadelphia chasing them, the Cavs will most likely remain in third. Embiid’s injury might slow the Sixers, and the Cavs are playing better because James has finally found an offensive rhythm.
When I saw Cleveland beat the Charlotte Hornets last week, James had 41 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists, and tied Michael Jordan’s record of 866 straight games with 10 points or more. Cleveland is also using its bench, and journeyman Jeff Green got minutes against Charlotte and put up 18 points.
Will they make it through Round 1? The Cavs will likely face the Wizards, who are the best of three teams competing for the sixth seed. Wizards star point guard John Wall, however just returned from a knee injury, and the Wizards have been an average 20–19 without him this season. If Wall can find his rhythm again quickly, the Cavs vs. the Wizards would be an interesting matchup. Still, the Cavs play fast and their shooting is hot as of late, so my prediction is Cavs in 6.
The next big question is, Will the Cavs make the Eastern Conference finals? Towards the middle of the season, the Cavs were a whole mess. Like, seriously. No one was getting along, James felt like he had no help, and their record was suffering. It was then that everyone began to count the 2016 NBA Champions out.
But now, the real Cavs have resurfaced, with their domination and flashy scoring making a comeback. They’ve won nine of their last 10, including an impressive win against the top team in the East, the Toronto Raptors. And they did much of that without head coach Tyronn Lue, who was sidelined by health issues.
If the Cavs can keep energy levels up, they should make an impressive run in the playoffs. However, the Raptors and Celtics are both forces to be reckoned with, and one of the two will likely prevail in the East. My prediction is a Raptors-Celtics Eastern Conference final, with the Raptors winning in 7.
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