There’s a reason Cavs want playoffs, and Kyrie

Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (2) passes in the fourth quarter against the Orlando Magic at Quicken Loans Arena.

David Richard

Cleveland Cavaliers (30-45) at Orlando Magic (21-53)

Venue: Amway Center, Orlando, Fla.

TV: 7 p.m., FOX Sports Ohio (Cavaliers Live pregame starts at 6:30 p.m.)

Projected Starters

CLEVELAND: C Spencer Hawes; PF Tristan Thompson; SF Luol Deng; SG Dion Waiters; PG Jarrett Jack.

ORLANDO: C Nikola Vucevic; PF Kyle O’Quinn; SF Maruice Harkless; SG Arron Afllalo; PG Jameer Nelson.



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Pregame Notes:

— OK, first things first, because I know you’re wondering: Kyrie Irving is a game-time decision. Personally, I’d be fairly surprised if he plays. I think the Cavs are leaning toward holding him out until Friday’s game at Atlanta. But that’s just a gut feeling. I have no evidence to support it.

— I think I’ve written two stories a day about the chase for the eighth playoff seed in the East. Someone responded on Twitter: "And the winner gets to get dispatched in the first round. Hooray!"

— But that’s a little shortsighted. First of all, has anyone seen the Pacers lately? Actually, they may end up as the No. 2 seed with the way things are going. But making the playoffs vs. not making the playoffs is almost always a good thing. Not always … but ALMOST always.

— The Cavs fall under the former category. Making the playoffs would be HUGE for Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, etc. It’d be big for the entire franchise, actually. Free agents (and your current roster) view the franchise differently when you’re a young team that gets in the playoffs. That’s not say people think you’re garbage if you don’t get in. It is to say that everyone just feels better when it comes to making the postseason. You may want to play the lottery, but the players sure don’t. And that counts for a lot when you’re trying to build a winning mentality — and a winning team.

— I’ve also heard the talk about the Cavs being a better team without Kyrie. I know Kyrie has heard it, too (Way to win over your best player, huh?). But I have seen no hard evidence of this.

— The Cavs are 4-4 without Irving in the latest stretch. They’re 5-6 overall this season without him. They’ve played hard and together lately, yes. But that has way more to do with them adapting to Mike Brown’s philosophy and understanding they can’t afford to lose again. Is Kyrie invincible? Hardly. But this team is a long shot to make the playoffs. Without Kyrie, the Cavs have no chance. None.

— Irving is not a ball hog and he does not impede ball movement. The Cavs still don’t move the ball particularly well. They’re just playing with energy and determination, and as Brown has said, they’re "finding ways" to win. If that changes with Irving, then I’ll see it differently. But to state the team is better without Kyrie as a fact … some people need to pay better attention. He’s the best player on this team, and frankly, it’s not even close.

— So what does Brown do when Irving returns? My hope is he starts Irving and Waiters together. Other than possibly missing the playoffs, not figuring out how to get those guys to play well next to each other is this season’s biggest disappointment.

— All of that said, I concede sometimes teams can get on a roll without their best player. They just play a little harder, because they know they have no choice. It’s not sustainable, but it doesn’t hurt to ride it out when it’s working. That’s one reason I think the Cavs will hold out Irving tonight. Don’t mess with things just yet. But they’ll need him in Atlanta.

— More than anything, my biggest concern is the loss of Anderson Varejao. At the very least, Varejao is out tonight with a shoulder injury. Spencer Hawes isn’t the same player without Irving – making Varejao the Cavs’ best big man. So it’s a major blow. Tristan Thompson has picked up the slack in Varejao’s absence before, and man, he’d better be ready to do it again.