INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — The Cavaliers are four games out of the playoffs with 18 to go, and the questions have basically been the same since the All-Star break.
Can the Cavs catch the Charlotte Bobcats? Can the Cavs catch the Atlanta Hawks? Can they make the most of their opportunity, having been blessed with an Eastern Conference affiliation?
Well, at least one person seems to believe.
"I’m never going to stop believing," said Cavs guard Kyrie Irving. "I’m going to do anything to make this playoff push, anything coach needs me to do, anything my teammates need me to do, I’m willing to do."
As the third-year point guard and his Cavs teammates know, they’d better get started.
They’ve blown a golden opportunity lately, having lost four straight and seven of nine. Yet somehow, their 24-40 record is good enough to at least give them a chance, and something to play for besides another high pick in the NBA draft.
"These last couple games (losses to the Bobcats and New York Knicks) have been tough, especially trying to make this playoff push," Irving said. "But that’s part of the game of basketball. The thing about this league is you get to continue to play, and we have this great West Coast trip coming up. I’m looking forward to getting on with it."
Ah, yes. The West Coast trip.
It starts Wednesday at the Phoenix Suns, and marches on with weekend visits to the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers. All three of those opponents sport winning records, and the Suns and Warriors won in Cleveland earlier this season.
As an added bonus for the Cavs (not really), Suns guard Eric Bledsoe is expected to play for the first time since undergoing knee surgery Jan. 10. Bledsoe is averaging 19.8 points, second on the Suns, in 24 games.
"Their pace is already incredible," Irving said. "Adding Bledsoe, especially the way Goran (Dragic) is playing lately … for them to have a 1-2 punch back, it makes them even more dangerous."
On the bright side, the Cavs were fairly admirable on their previous trip out West (sans a 44-point loss at the Sacramento Kings), winning three of five games and pulling themselves out of a gutter of sorts.
They’ll probably need something similar this time.
"Hopefully, we can go out West and have some success like we did last time," said Cavs coach Mike Brown. "The guys understand that and know where we sit in the season. There’s not a ton of games left."
The Hawks (27-35) currently hold the eighth and final spot in the East. The Knicks (25-40) and Detroit Pistons (24-39) are each a half-game ahead of the Cavs in the ninth spot.
Basically, it’s a convoluted mess at the bottom, and there’s only way to fix it: Start winning.
"You’ve gotta take it (that) the ultimate accomplishment would be to win these three games," said Irving, averages a team-high 21.5 points and 6.3 assists. "That’s what we’re striving to do. I know that I’m going to do everything in my power to make that happen, whatever it takes. I know my teammates feel the same way.
"We have a tough test ahead of us, but as professionals, this is what we’ve got to get up for. End of the season, 18 games left, every game matters. I mean, this is as close to meaningful basketball that I’ve played in the last three years. It matters a lot to me and it should matter to all of us, and I know it does. It’s a great test and we’ve just got to will through this."