Play-In Still Possible for Struggling Cavs


With the trade deadline in the rearview mirror, the Cleveland Cavaliers now turn their focus towards making the play-in tournament. Due to the expanded postseason this year, Cleveland figures to be in the playoff picture for longer than they would in the typical eight-team format.

However, the Cavs’ roster changes necessitated an adjustment period which began during their latest road trip. After a promising start with a win in Chicago, the Cavs lost their last four games. They failed to crack 100 points in each loss.

Road-trip Blues

Cleveland now owns an abysmal 6-18 away record, tied for the second-fewest road wins this season. The Wine and Golders had chances to win in Los Angeles and Sacramento, but lost due to poor play in the second half and crunch time.

  • The Cavs were up seven at halftime against the Lakers without LeBron James or Anthony Davis. Los Angeles held them to 10 third-quarter points and outscored Cleveland by 21 in the second half.
  • They led by five with under two minutes to go against the Kings before collapsing on the final defensive possession.
  • Their game against Utah was over by the second quarter. The Jazz took advantage of the Cavs’ 27th ranked three-point defense by raining down 19-of-41 three-point attempts on the shorthanded visitors. They outperformed Cleveland in nearly every major statistic and held a lead as large as 41.

Shooting woes continue to plague the Cavs this season as they rank 29th in three-point shooting and last in free-throw shooting. The Cavs shot worse than 68% from the free throw line during each loss of the road trip. The Cavs shot just 5-for-26 from deep against the Lakers and 7-for-34 against the Jazz. Cleveland had a slightly better three-point showing against the Kings going 9-for-26 from deep. However, late free throw misses opened the door for Harrison Barnes to drill a game-winning three at the buzzer.

JaVale McGee and Andre Drummond

As expected, the Cavs were sellers at the deadline this year as they looked to deal all centers on the roster not named Jarrett Allen. Few expected McGee to finish the season with Cleveland from the moment he was dealt. On an expiring contract and the oldest player on the roster, he fits better on a contending team. The Cavs ended up adding three second-round picks and Isaiah Hartenstein for McGee between acquiring him from the Lakers and trading him to the Nuggets.

McGee gave the Cavs solid production off the bench averaging 8.0 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks across 33 games. In a rebuilding year, however, his biggest contribution by far was locker-room leadership. He brought energy and stability during a season that has been defined by injuries and inconsistent play. His Cavalier tenure will be remembered positively as a veteran who added plenty to a young team both on and off the floor.

The Cavs were unable to find a trade partner for Drummond and his nearly $30 million expiring contract. While they didn’t give up much to acquire him last season, getting anything in return for Drummond was Cleveland’s top deadline priority. Contending teams simply didn’t want to give up big chunks of their rotation for an expensive rental.

After whiffing on a trade, Cleveland agreed to a contract buyout with Drummond, ending a strange saga with the two-time All-Star. Above all, the Cavs will have much more cap space with Drummond off the payroll next season. In other words, they’ll have plenty of room financially to lock up Allen to an extension this summer.

Isaiah Hartenstein

The only player Cleveland added at the deadline, Hartenstein offers the Cavs a young prospect in a position of need. At just 22, he fits with the team’s timeline and will receive ample playing time the rest of the season as Allen’s backup. With the front court decimated by injuries, Hartenstein started in his first game as a Cavalier against Utah. In 26 minutes, he led the team with 14 rebounds and seven assists, becoming the eighth different player to lead the Cavs in assists in a game this season.

Most of his assists were entry passes from the top of the key and he showed some shooting range by hitting a three. His ability to affect the offense from the perimeter offers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff a number of options with the second unit. The Cavs have completely revamped their center position by subtracting veterans for younger players with upside. The former second-round pick will get every opportunity to play himself into Cleveland’s long-term future over the remainder of the season.

Playoff Push

Despite being well below .500, the Cavs still have a semi-realistic shot at the playoffs. They’re only three games back of the East’s tenth seed. Two more three-game road trips await them with one beginning Saturday in Miami. Bickerstaff will continue to tweak the rotation as players recover from injuries and Hartenstein adjusts to his new teammates.

The areas of needed improvement for the Cavs are clear. Better shooting, perimeter defense and offensive playmaking should be at the top of Cleveland’s offseason priorities. The Cavs will use the rest of the season to see what they have in their young players, regardless of whether they make the playoffs or not.

When the Cavaliers’ season got cut short last year, the organization lost valuable games to evaluate their franchise building blocks. Now they have that opportunity with 24 games left on the schedule. A successful final stretch for the Cavs won’t be measured by whether or not they make the playoffs. That said, making the postseason in year three of this rebuild would make a statement about the team’s potential next season.

Follow us on Twitter @CavsLead for the latest Cavs news and insight. 

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About Avi Carr-Gloth

Avi is an Emerson College graduate with a B.S. in Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @avicarrgloth to stay up to date on the latest Cavs content.

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