AUBURN HILLS, MICH.: The Cavaliers’ playoff hopes unofficially died when they lost their first four games of March. Even last weekend, after losing at home to the Houston Rockets on Saturday night, they left Quicken Loans Arena 6˝ games out of the final playoff spot with 12 games to play. They were out of time.
Only maybe they’re not. The Cavs unexpectedly chopped three games off the deficit in just four days this week and at least mathematically still have a pulse in the Eastern Conference playoff chase entering tonight’s game at the Brooklyn Nets.
The eighth seed in the East has averaged 38 victories in the past five full NBA seasons. The Cavs will have to win out to get to 38 victories, which would mean finishing the season on a 12-game winning streak.
That seems incredibly unlikely, particularly since they haven’t won more than six in a row at any point in the past four years. What is undeniable is the Cavs are playing significantly better in the final days of the season.
“You’re not out until you’re out,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “But for me, I’m just concentrating on, ‘Let’s win the next game. If we don’t win it, let’s try to play the right way and leave it on the floor.’?”
The Cavs didn’t play the right way for much of Wednesday’s stunning win over the Detroit Pistons at the buzzer. The ball movement was stagnant, most of the bigs aside from Anderson Varejao struggled to rebound and the defense struggled much of the night.
But the Cavs scored the game’s final 10 points, grabbed key rebounds late and defended in the closing minutes before Dion Waiters’ 19-foot jumper at the buzzer covered a night’s worth of errors.
“You can tell these games still mean something for them,” Brown said, “and the togetherness that we’re having during this stretch is a lot of fun to be around.”
This three-game winning streak at least temporarily has left the Cavaliers in purgatory. They enter today with a 1.9 percent chance of making the playoffs and a 1.6 percent chance of winning the draft lottery, according to basketball-reference.com. But those playoff odds could increase if the Atlanta Hawks continue to lose.
The Hawks entered their game Thursday against the Portland Trail Blazers on a four-game losing streak. The Hawks followed a six-game losing streak with a five-game winning streak, only to unravel again this last week.
The East is struggling through one of its worst seasons in years and the eighth seed could conceivably slip in with fewer than 38 wins — the Hawks began Thursday on pace for 36 victories.
The Cavs still must move ahead of the New York Knicks, but if they can shave another game or two off this deficit in the coming days, next Friday’s game at Atlanta could have enormous postseason implications.
For their part, players seem to be trying to enjoy the moment without getting caught up in the race. This team hasn’t fared well under pressure situations this season, so no one seems interesting in resurrecting talk about the playoffs just yet.
“I don’t give up looking at [the standings], I just don’t focus on them as much,” Jarrett Jack said. “You kind of always got in your head what the other teams are doing. We just need to focus on the here and now and what’s going on in this locker room. We’ve done a great job at that and it has resulted in our play.”
When asked if the Cavs could gain 3˝ games in the standings in just nine games, Jack playfully scoffed at the question.
“Now why would you say that?” Jack said. “Let’s just play and let the chips fall where they may.”
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