Another game, another almost-must-win for Cavs
Cleveland Cavaliers (29-44) at Brooklyn Nets (37-33)
Venue: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.
TV: 7:30 p.m., FOX Sports Ohio (Cavaliers Live pregame starts at 7 p.m.)
CLEVELAND: C Spencer Hawes; PF Tristan Thompson; SF Luol Deng; SG Dion Waiters; PG Jarrett Jack.
BROOKLYN: C Mason Plumlee; PF Paul Pierce; SF Joe Johnson; SG Shaun Livingston; PG Deron Williams.
— Obviously, this is a biggie for both teams. The Nets are the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference, and just 2.5 games back of the Bulls for fourth. They’re also 2.5 behind the Raptors in the Atlantic Division. Winning the division would land the Nets the third seed. Overtaking the Bulls would mean home-court advantage in the first round as well. So they have plenty of reasons to keep things going.
— You already know the Cavs’ situation. If not, check out my blog on this very site. Just know that the Cavs need wins in these final nine games. And lots of ’em.
— On the bright side, the Cavs have won three straight. On the brighter side, they can still play better. They’ve been fairly inconsistent in each of the three, trailing the Knicks by 17 points (before winning) and the Pistons by 16 (ditto). They even trailed the Pistons by 13 with 7:00 to go – on the road, no less. In between those two games, the Cavs blew a huge lead against the Raptors then held on to win. So it’s hardly been a cruise job. But it’s working.
— One difference that stands out to me from the beginning (or even the middle) of the season is the players seem to think they SHOULD win. They’re confident, they’re playing together, and even if the numbers don’t show it, they’ve made strides defensively. They still have letdowns, but they aren’t often as costly as have been.
— Dion Waiters has obviously been fantastic, and Jarrett Jack, after disappointing most of the year, is in the midst of his best stretch with the team. Luol Deng has been very good, too. Jack and Deng are veterans with playoff experience. They know big games. Just a hunch, but that type of background probably helps a lot in times like these.
— And that, kids, is why the playoffs are such a big deal. You can tank all you want, but no one is going to make the leaps they should until they at least taste the postseason. That’s something every NBA exec, coach and player agrees on. The playoffs are a different animal. Just ONE GAME would make Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Waiters and others better pros next year. And you’re guaranteed a minimum of four.
— The Cavs reverted to their old stand-around-and-pound-the-ball offense Wednesday at Detroit. They need to avoid that tonight, because the Nets have stopped beating themselves (as the Knicks and Pistons often do). A lot of that falls on Jack. He’s not a great penetrator and there’s a reason he’s spent his career as a journeyman. Without Irving, he doesn’t need to be a great scorer, but he needs to make sure to set up others. He’s done a better job of both in the previous three or four games, and it must continue.
— By the way, Irving has been getting up shots lately. Monday will be the two-week mark of when he was first diagnosed with a strained left biceps. He is supposed to be re-evaluated then.
— I’m not sure what’s going on with Spencer Hawes, but I’m sticking to the original theory given to me by a league talent-evaluator: This offense just makes guys look bad. It may or may not be true, but it’s hard to argue. Deng looked great the first two weeks he was here, then his game suddenly became inconsistent and ugly. The same thing is happening with Hawes. (And most everyone else before them.) But Deng has adjusted lately, and Hawes will need to, too.
— Obviously, Tristan Thompson has struggled lately as well. Thankfully, Anderson Varejao has returned from injury, because otherwise, the Cavs’ frontcourt would just kill them in important games. But let’s stick with the good stuff: A couple of wins this weekend and the Cavs could be on their way to a longer season.