***Originally Published on Buckeye State Sports***
The Cleveland Cavaliers suffered an embarrassing defeat in Sacramento Sunday afternoon at the hands of the Kings. They were bested in just about every aspect of the game and lost 124-80, falling to 13-24.
Now that the mid-season mark is almost upon us, let’s take a look at the Eastern Conference standings and see just how likely it is that the Cavs earn a playoff berth.
With a record of 13-24, the Cavs currently reside in the 11th spot in the East. The encouraging thing is that they are only two games back from the eighth spot (Brooklyn Nets). While that, along with the acquisition of Luol Deng, leaves plenty of optimism for now, the Cavs’ playoff chances are actually starting to look grim due to a few overachieving teams in the East.
A few weeks ago, I remained confident that the Cavs would nab a playoff spot and possibly even climb to the fifth, sixth or seventh seeds. One of the main things that have caused that confidence to waver is the consistently stellar play of the Toronto Raptors.
Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay obviously aren’t meant to be center-pieces for any team, and it shouldn’t be too surprising that the Raptors play better team ball without them. There’s no doubt, however, that new Raptors GM Masai Ujiri was attempting to tank for Toronto native Andrew Wiggins by making those trades.
The Raptors currently sit in fourth place in the East at 18-17 and it’s more than likely Ujiri has abonded the “tank” and will see how this rides out for the rest of the season. Toronto making the playoffs could really ruin the Cavs’ chances at it.
With Brooklyn and the New York Knicks finally playing better basketball, it seems inevitable that both teams will make the playoffs. The current 6th seed Chicago Bulls are likely to fall out of the top eight post-Deng trade. The current third seed Atlanta Hawks should take a hit without their star, Al Horford, but they have continued to play competitive without him thus far and should remain in the playoffs in the weak East. The current sixth and seventh seeded Washington Wizards and Detroit Pistons rosters have too much talent to not make the playoffs and should only get better as the season progresses. Then, there’s the Charlotte Bobcats who currently sit a half game out of the playoffs. Head coach Steve Clifford has them playing inspired ball so far this season, and they will undoubtedly be battling the Cavs for a playoff spot the rest of the way.
With this outlook, it appears that the Cavs will be in an all out battle for that eighth spot. With eight other teams likely to make it in though, they would fall just short.
My current prediction for the top eight teams in the East would be:
1) Indiana Pacers
2) Miami Heat
3) Atlanta Hawks
4) Detroit Pistons
5) Toronto Raptors
6) Washington Wizards
7) Brooklyn Nets
8) New York Knicks
Now, the acquisition of Deng will help the Cavs win several more games this season and they should definitely be right there fighting for a playoff spot, but it’s going to be tough to beat out one of these teams.
The first and second seeds are basically set in stone with Indiana and Miami. After that though, it’s pretty open between the six remaining teams above and Charlotte and Cleveland. I would expect both New York teams to move up slightly higher and Toronto to possibly fall off, but they haven’t shown any signs of slowing down just yet.
There’s still just over half a season left for the Cavs to make up some serious ground, but it’s safe to say they have their work cut out for them. They’ve had some mildly encouraging performances of late (blocking out the 44-point loss to the Kings) and need to start stringing together some wins over these next couple of stretches.
A playoff berth is still doable for the Cavs and fans should retain optimism for now, but the overall outlook for teams competing in the Eastern Conference is beginning to look bleak for the Wine and Gold. Still, a lot can happen over the next three months. The Cavs just need to regroup, play consistently good basketball on both ends of the floor and stop dropping winnable games to mediocre teams.
Follow Wade Foley on Twitter @WFoley22