The Cleveland Cavaliers’ playoff hopes are looking a little less bleak with Kyrie Irving’s return from injury in a Cav’s win against the Orlando Magic Wednesday night.
Irving would finish with 17 points, eight assists and six rebounds after returning to the starting lineup, missing eight games with a bicep injury.
The Cavs have now won five of their last six, and are currently trailing behind Atlanta and New York for that coveted eighth seed.
The New York Knicks, who currently have control of the last spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, have a tough last 6 games. They don’t play a single team behind them in the standings, starting with the Washington Wizards Friday night, and ending against the Toronto Raptors, who they play twice during this last stretch. The Knicks are 4-8 this season against the final teams they will face for the regular season.
The Atlanta Hawks, who have eight games remaining, face three playoff-clinched teams in their remaining games, as well as the current 7th-seed Charlotte Bobcats. The Atlanta Hawks are 12-9 this season against their remaining opponents.
And while the Cavaliers seem to have the best chances in only facing one current playoff-bound teams in their final six games (Brooklyn Nets), Cleveland has not played these opponents well prior; the Cavs went 5-11 against these teams during the season.
Even if the Cavs can reel off six straight, that doesn’t guarantee a playoff spot. The Knicks would have to lose at least two games just to have the same record as the Cavs, but would have to lose three Eastern Conference match ups to further tie the tie-breaker according to NBA rules. The Hawks, similarly, need only one loss to match records, but would also have to lose three games against Eastern Conference opponents to further tie for that final playoff spot.
Though I didn’t mention the Bobcats, Charlotte has yet to clinch a playoff berth. If their final season stretch turns drastic, it could mean good news for the Cavaliers.
But like Dion Waiters said in his post-game interview after defeating the Magic on Wednesday, the Cavaliers are in the driver’s seat of their destiny. They can’t worry about what these other teams are doing. They just have to worry about what Cleveland is doing, one game at a time. If the Cavs can manage to finish the rest of the regular season without a loss and still don’t make the playoffs, I think it would be hard for hate to come their way from the fans in Cleveland. At least for the moment.