The Disappointment Zone

Musings from a Cleveland sports fan

Cavaliers playoff scenarios

Posted by disappointmentzone on 1 April 2007

With the win over the Bulls yesterday afternoon the Cavs moved 1.5 games ahead of the surging Bulls, who entering the game had won 8 of their last 10. The win also prevented Chicago from walking away with the tie-braker. The season series is now 2-2 (more on this below). A loss would have dropped the Cavs to third place in the Central Division, and fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. Right now the Cavs trail the Pistons for the #1 seed by 2.5 games. Here is how the playoffs would look if they began today:

Detroit vs. Orlando –> winner of Chicago/Miami
Cleveland vs. New Jersey –> winner of Washington/Toronto

Which means that had the Bulls won yesterday the Cavs would be facing Miami followed by Detroit in the first two rounds of the playoffs. As it is the Cavs are poised to play New Jersey, a team that’s struggling to maintain any semblance of interest in playing basketball, and then either a Washington team that’s on the decline or a somewhat intimidating Toronto team — but a Toronto team that lacks playoff experience and would have to go on the road to play the Cavs.

The difference between a loss or a win against the Bulls yesterday was the difference between playing the last two NBA champions in the first two rounds of the playoffs without home court advantage vs. walking into the Eastern Conference Finals. The Eastern Conference may not be good but at the top there are a few elite teams, and with the screwy logic of the NBA seeding system three of those teams will have to face each other in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Winning yesterday against the Bulls was huge because it meant avoiding just that scenario…at least for the moment.

If the Cavs go out and tank against the Celtics tonight all bets are off. A pause for concern arises when you consider that the game against the Celtics is a) across a time zone, b) on the second night of a back-to-back, c) on the road, d) following a road game, and e) after a huge win for the team. The only scenario that satisfies those conditions (that I can think of off the top of my head) is from back in November, when the Cavs went on the road to beat the Spurs and then played the Bobcats the next night only to find themselves lose to a team that right now has a .384 winning percentage. Working in the Cavs’ favor today is that the Celtics will probably be without Paul Pierce. Also, Greg Oden had another super game last night, which means that the Celtics might not be trying so hard to win in order to better ensure their chances at the #1 overall pick in the NBA Draft.

So let’s mark the Cavs down for a win today. That leaves the team with 8 games left on the schedule. In those games I have the Cavs going 5-3 (losing to Minnesota/Miami, Washington and Detroit). That puts the Cavs at 50-32 for the season. 50 wins won’t be enough for the team to catch Detroit, but with the playoff seedings how they are I don’t think that’s much of a concern and in fact Cavs fans might want to begin rooting for the Pistons (again, more on this below). More important (or if not more important than at least more pressing) is the race between the Heat and the Raptors.

Right now Miami is a game behind Toronto but only a half game up on the Wizards. If Miami plays too well and Toronto tanks, then the Heat will move into the #3 seed, which means a likely second round playoff date with the Cavs. If Miami tanks and Washington plays well, then Miami moves into the #6 seed, which means a second round playoff date with the Cavs. It probably goes without saying, but the Cavs do not want to face the Heat in the second round. Miami needs to finish the season in the #4 seed. Which means rooting for Toronto to have major success, Miami to have success no better than the Raptors’ success, and Washington to have no success.

How likely is that to happen? Here are the teams’ remaining schedules and my game predictions:

Toronto Raptors:

Charlotte (W)
@ Miami (L)
@ Orlando (W)
@ Philadelphia (W)
Chicago (L)
@ Minnesota (W)
Detroit (L)
New York (W)
@ Detroit (L)
Philadelphia (W)

Final record: 46-36

Miami Heat:

@ Detroit (L)
Toronto (W)
@ Cleveland (L)
@ Boston (W)
Charlotte (W)
@ Charlotte (W)
Washington (L)
Indiana (W)
Boston (W)
@ Orlando (W)

Final record: 46-36

Washington Wizards

@ Milwaukee (W)
@ Charlotte (W)
Charlotte (L)
Cleveland (L)
@ New Jersey (L)
New Jersey (W)
@ Miami (L)
@ Atlanta (W)
Chicago (L)
Orlando (W)
@ Indiana (W)

Final record: 44-38

At the end of the season I see Miami and Toronto having identical records. The tie-braker is the season series, which right now is tied 1-1. Toronto is at Miami on March 3rd in a game that may ultimately be the difference between the #3 and #4 seeds. So that’s one important game to be aware of.

And what of our Cavaliers? Well, I said that I see the team finishing with a record of 50-32. The only other team in the Cavs’ heels are the Bulls. Wouldn’t you know it, when I look at the remaining schedule for the Bulls I see them finishing with a record of…50-32. This will be one more seeding decided by tie-brakers.

I’ve already mentioned that the season series is tied 2-2. The next tie-breaker is winning percentage in the division.

Right now the Cavs are 9-5 in the Central Division.

The Bulls are 11-4.

At best the Cavs can finish 11-5. To do so means winning at Detroit on March 8th and beating the Pacers on March 18th. That is a tall order.

At worst the Bulls can finish 11-5; at best, 12-5.

The Bulls have one division game remaining and it’s Wednesday at Detroit.

For Cleveland to have a fighting chance in this tie-braker the Pistons must win that game.

Now it should be clearer why the Cavs need to start rooting for the Pistons. If Detroit wins that game and the Cavs win out against division teams, then once the season is over the Bulls and Cavs could be tied through the first two tie-brakers. The next tie-braker is wins in the conference, which the Bulls lead 30-26. There is no reason to worry about the Cavs making up those four games against the Bulls because if the team does so then the Bulls won’t finish tied with the Cavs.

The NBA season is in its final weeks and nothing about the playoff picture is clear except that the Cavs need to finish in the #2 seed and Miami needs to finish in the #4 seed. In order for those two things to happen a lot of pieces must fall into place. Right now nothing is decided. Which kind of makes you wish the Cavs had focused a little bit more back in November when they choked away a game against the Bobcats. As it is right now, any more choking during the regular season probably means choking away a chance at playing for a spot in the NBA Finals.

___________________

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