Just playing well won’t be enough for Cavs

Kyrie Irving and the Cavs will face stiff competition in their drive toward a playoff spot.

Justin Ford

With the Cavaliers 3.5 games out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, it’s important that Atlanta keep losing. Charlotte could certainly help in that area, too.

But that’s a lot to ask.

What could be more beneficial to the Cavs is that they keep winning. That too may be a lot to ask if you look at the schedule. In fact, just look at their next game. The Cavs get to play the defending Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs. How fun.

Anyway, let’s start with the Hawks.

They’re 26-32 and have lost nine of 10. That includes Sunday’s game at Phoenix, the first of a five-game swing through the West. Things could really unravel for the Hawks, particularly because they’ve been without injured center Al Horford and forward Paul Millsap. Horford underwent surgery on a torn pectoral muscle (injured against the Cavs) and is out for the year, and Millsap has missed time with a knee injury (he is on the West trip and expected to could play any minute).

But after the trip, things get easier for the Hawks. Only eight of their final 20 games take place against teams with winning records — and 13 of their final 20 are at home.

Then there’s Charlotte.

At 27-32, the Bobcats are just four games ahead of the Cavs (and Detroit) for the seventh seed. That could change quickly, as the Bobcats’ next two games come against East powers Miami and Indiana. After that, the Bobcats host the Cavs on Friday.

Of the Bobcats’ final 23 games, 12 are at home.

OK, now for the Pistons.

A lot of folks consider them a train wreck that fired its coach (Maurice Cheeks) just more than halfway through his first season. But guess what? At 23-36, the Pistons are tied with the Cavs (24-37) for ninth in the East.

Like the Cavs, the Pistons still must head west later this month — and of the Pistons’ final 23 games, 14 are on the road. They still have two games left vs. the Cavs, too. Those have the potential to be huge.

OK, now for the Cavs. They’ve won eight of 12 and have looked better in doing so, even without injured big man Anderson Varejao and guards Dion Waiters and C.J. Miles. New addition Spencer Hawes has certainly helped in that area, as Hawes is a big man with skills and has fit well next to Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson.

But the bottom line on the Cavs is they may have the toughest final stretch of any of the East hopefuls. Nine of their final 21 games are against teams with winning records. That includes San Antonio (ouch), Miami (oh my), Oklahoma City (gulp) and a three-game swing at Phoenix, Golden State and the L.A. Clippers (lock the door and stay inside).

On the bright side, 11 of the Cavs’ final 21 are at home. On the brighter side, the Cavs have proven capable of beating anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Of course, they’ve also proven capable of losing to anyone in the same manner.

What’s it all mean?

It means the playoffs have really already started. And the Cavs have no choice but to pull it together. Because of their early struggles, just playing well is no longer good enough.

They need to win, and often, and get some serious help.