Cavs getting this playoff positioning thing down pat
A lot can happen between now and the NBA playoffs, and the Cavaliers seem quite aware of that.
They didn’t even play Sunday — and they took over the lead in the Central Division and sole possession of the No. 2 seed in the East.
How’s that for kicking back, relaxing, and just waiting for everyone else to mess up?
That’s what everyone did to the Cavs at the beginning of the season. They watched and waited and laughed as the Cavs stumbled their way to a 19-20 start.
LeBron James and some unnamed writers (wink, wink) told everyone to calm down and enjoy the ride. The Cavs were a relatively new program that was still getting adjusted. It’s not what you do for the first 41 games. It’s what you do when it really counts.
When it’s really counted (since mid-January), the Cavs have won 21 of 26. Say it over and over. Twenty-one. Of 26. That’s impressive. But just like the fantastic seasons of the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks, it’ll mean little beyond a chunk of increased merchandise sales if it doesn’t continue in April and May (and perhaps June).
LeBron gets that. He’s been to the Finals five times and has won two titles. Shawn Marion, James Jones, Kendrick Perkins, Mike Miller and Brendan Haywood get it, too. All own championship rings. Look for Marion, Jones and Perkins to see their roles increase as the games become more meaningful. Look for LeBron to show even more of what it takes to be a champion (and occasionally just take over) when the postseason arrives.
But back to the standings. James has insisted it doesn’t matter where the Cavs finish.
"Top eight," he said.
There’s a lot of truth to that, as any team that gets to the Finals likely has to win two or three (or more) road games along the way. And odds are, if you want to win a championship, you’ll have to win a road game on the NBA’s biggest stage as well.
But it’s always easier at home. Stars like James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love tend to play well everywhere. But role players tend to play worse on the road. Not always, but it sure seems that way.
Playing in someone else’s gym really impacts a player’s shooting. While the league has taken away some of the character and advantage of the home court with its copycat/cookie-cutter arenas, winning on the road remains a difficult task.
So if the Cavs ultimately land the second seed in the East (behind the running-away-with-it Hawks), they’ll be in pretty good shape.
And they may not even have to play that great to do it.
Current third seed Chicago is a half-game behind the Cavs, but lost its starting and starring backcourt of Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler to injury, for at least a few more weeks. The Bulls have won just five of their previous 10.
Fourth-seeded Toronto has been even worse. Try two wins in the past 10 games, including a loss to the Cavs — who own the tiebreaker after winning three of the teams’ four meetings. The Raptors are 1.5 games back of the Cavs.
Both the Bulls and Raptors lost Sunday, giving the idle Cavs the advantage.
Now, all of this can change suddenly. The Cavs are on the road for four straight games, with the first two coming at Western Conference contender Dallas (Tuesday) and defending NBA champion San Antonio (Thursday). Lose both, and you could fall right back to the No. 4 seed. Win both, and you could greatly improve your advantage to finish second.
So plenty of drama remains between now and the regular-season finale on April 15. Then, of course, the real drama begins.