It has been a frustrating last couple of weeks for the Cleveland Cavaliers. And that tension has only surmounted with the playoffs just a couple of weeks away.
On March 6th, in a home game against the Toronto Raptors, the Cavs lost All-Star Jarrett Allen just minutes after tip-off. It was later determined that Allen suffered from a fractured left middle finger. Although there is not a set date for his return to play, Allen is expected to rejoin the team by the first round of the playoffs (which start on April 15) at the very latest.
Since losing Allen, the Cavs have suffered from inconsistent results and have accumulated a 5-5 record. Their most recent matchup was north of the border in Toronto on Thursday, when they took on the surging Raptors. Heading into the game, the Raptors were just one spot behind the Cavs for the coveted 6th seed in the Eastern Conference standings. Teams who find themselves in spots 7-10 in the standings will participate in a "play-in" tournament that begins four days before the playoff's opening games. Seeds 1-6 automatically gain a spot in the postseason.
Without a doubt, the winner of this one would gain a major boost of momentum to keep their playoff aspirations intact. Cleveland was not that team Thursday night.
Despite yet another double-double from first-time all-star Darius Garland, the Cavs were unable to get over the hump. They were outscored in three of the four quarters played, only winning the third quarter by just two, 27-25. With the home fans on their side and with a healthier group on the floor, the Raptors' offensive firepower was just to much for Cleveland to handle.
Pascal Siakam scored a game-high 35 points to go along with six assists and five rebounds to secure a 117-104 win, Toronto's 41st of the year. The Cavs and Raptors are now deadlocked with identical records of 41-32. With the Raptors' win, the sixth seed in the East is officially anyone's for the taking.
What's Next for the Cavs?
Cleveland has only nine games left in their regular season. And it doesn't get any easier. Here are all the games they have left against teams who are currently in playoff positioning:
- vs. Bulls (March 26)
- vs. Mavericks (March 30)
- vs. 76ers (April 3)
- @ Nets (April 8)
- vs. Bucks (April 10)
If the Cavs are going to secure a trip to the playoffs for the first time in this century without LeBron James at their side, the young core is going to need to play their best basketball yet.
Evan Mobley needs to prove once more why he is a top candidate for the NBA Rookie of the Year this season, while Darius Garland not only must carry the scoring load but also continue his duties as a facilitator at the point guard position. In his last four games, Garland has averaged 13 assists per game.
One player who must contribute to the Cavs on the offensive side of the ball is Columbus native Caris LeVert, who is averaging just 12 points per game, his lowest average since 2018 with the Brooklyn Nets. And with Collin Sexton being out for almost the entirety of this season, LeVert's play will be crucial moving forward.
As of right now, Cleveland still holds onto sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings by the skin of their teeth. That will change if they fall to the Bulls at home and if the Toronto Raptors defeat the Indiana Pacers at Scotiabank Arena. Both games are scheduled for Saturday night.
Although it is not necessarily the time to slam the panic button, there is certainly a lot on the line for the Cavs if they are to keep their postseason aspirations alive.