NBA AM: Cavaliers Still Alive in Race for Eighth

Cavaliers Still Alive in Race for Eighth

It is well documented that the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks are battling for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. After last night’s games, the Knicks and Hawks are tied in the standings and the two teams will continue to compete with one another over the final two weeks of the season.

However, there is one other team that’s still alive in the race for the East’s eighth seed. The Cleveland Cavaliers are just two games back from the Knicks and Hawks, with a game against Atlanta this Friday. The Cavs have won five of their last six games, including victories over the Knicks, Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers, and they’re hoping to get some help and be the team that sneaks into the postseason.

“We are still in the hunt,” Dion Waiters said. “We still have a chance. We just have to take full advantage of it. At the end of the day, everybody knows what is at stake. We are coming in here focused and locked in. We just have to go out there and execute.”

“That’s the goal; the goal is to get into the playoffs,” Luol Deng said. “The best thing about it is now that we’re at the end of the season and in the race, guys see what they’re playing for. Every practice, every game, there’s a goal and it’s right there in front of us. Whatever level you’re playing at, it’s always good when everyone is on the same page and has the same goal. And I think these guys are learning from it and really enjoying it. A lot of them haven’t been to the playoffs. We’re all trying to do whatever it takes to make it. For me, it means a lot not only to see them go through it but because I think we deserve it. We’re a way better team in the second half than we were in the beginning of the season, so I just want to see the maturity of this team get rewarded.”

“This is the first time in my career where these games this late in the season are starting to mean something,” Kyrie Irving said. “We are playing against teams that are fighting for spots as well, so it makes the games that much more fun. We go out there and compete. Guys have to step up. These are big-time games coming up.”

“Everyone’s goal is to be a winner and part of being a winner is playing in the postseason,” Tristan Thompson said. “The fun thing about this year is that we put ourselves in a position where these last six games mean something. Now, we just need to go out there and compete and see what happens. …  We’re very confident.”

“There’s nothing tricky that we have to do,” Mike Brown said. “We just have to keep getting ready for the next thing that’s in front of us. Go out and practice hard. Go out and play hard. I think it’s just as simple as that.”

Cleveland is currently 31-45 and this has been a roller coaster season for the team. They’ve dealt with drama, trades, injuries and a front office change among other things. This season has largely been a disappointment considering the team entered the season with playoff aspirations and securing a postseason berth shouldn’t have been this difficult, especially given the state of the Eastern Conference.

However, the Cavs are finally living up to their potential and playing some of their best basketball of the season lately.

“We’ve been playing great basketball,” Waiters said. “We’re keeping the defense on their heels and pushing the ball and hitting the open guy. We’re just having fun out there.”

“We’re doing a good job of enjoying the games and playing together,” Deng said. “Once you start winning, you get a feel for it and start enjoying it more than anything. Then, you start trying to put some more games together. We have a great group of guys who really want to win. Now that we’ve put some games together and learned different ways to win, they’re enjoying it. We’re enjoying it. We’re just trying to stack up more wins.”

“We’ve made strides in the right direction, just moving the ball, making each other better and trusting one another,” Irving said. “We’ve just had a great rhythm.”

Right after Wednesday night’s 21-point victory over the Orlando Magic, the Cavaliers all got on their phones to see whether the Knicks and Hawks had won their games. New York beat the Brooklyn Nets while Atlanta lost to the Chicago Bulls. Cleveland knows they’ll need help in order to realize their postseason goal, so they’ve been paying close attention to the two teams ahead of them in the standings.

“Oh yeah, after our games I’ll go check the scores to see what’s going on around the league,” Waiters said. “I’m focused on them, mainly those two teams. I’ve been checking.”

“New York won by 29 and Atlanta is down seven right now; I’m checking every few minutes,” Thompson said with a laugh. “These games definitely mean a lot.”

On Friday, the Cavaliers play the Hawks. They have to win that game if they want to stay alive in the race for eighth, especially since Atlanta owns the tiebreaker over Cleveland by virtue of winning the season series.

“It is not completely in our hands, but if we can control what we have in front of us it puts us in a lot better position,” Spencer Hawes said. “[Friday’s game against Atlanta] is the next one up and is perhaps our biggest game of the season given the circumstances at this point.”

“Friday’s game means a lot to keep us in this race,” Thompson said. “They definitely kicked our butts last time we went out there, so it’s a great challenge for us.”

“They’re all big,” Brown said. “Let’s say if we go and we beat Atlanta, and we lose our next five? Every game we play, because of the position we put ourselves in, is a big game. We have to come and try to play the right way and see if we can get a win.”

Even if the Cavaliers don’t make the playoffs, their players realize that this late-season success is good for the team moving forward. It gives them a taste of the playoff race and can help them going into next season.

“It’ll be disappointing at the end of the day, but we’ll still go into the offseason with a lot of momentum and hopefully be able to start next season strong because of how we’re doing now,” Waiters said. “But it’s up to us to go out there and win these games. That’s all we need to do.”

When asked about Cleveland’s odds of making the postseason, Brown paused and then smiled.

“I don’t know, I’ve never been great when I’ve gone to Vegas,” Brown said. “I don’t try to guess that. I just know that where we are, we’ve got to play good basketball and we’ve got to go try to win. We put ourselves in this hole. The only thing we can do is our part, and have a chance.”

Wizards Are Heading to the Playoffs

The Washington Wizards’ five-season playoff drought is over.

With last night’s win over the Boston Celtics, the Wizards clinched a playoff spot for the first time since the 2007-08 season. The team is currently in the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed with a 39-36 record, which is a huge step forward for the franchise considering they were 117-277 over the last five years.

“It’s great, it’s everything I’ve been waiting for as a point guard,” John Wall said. “I’ve been trying to learn how to lead in this league and become a better player. Also, I think the fans deserve it. The tough times they went through of them booing us and us feeling bad when we weren’t playing good or playing the right way and having the right people around the organization. Those guys in the front office and the coaching staff are doing a great job of building us as players, and we’re trusting in their system and going out there and playing as a group, as one whole team. It means a lot.”

“It feels good, man,” Bradley Beal said. “It’s my second year, so I’m fortunate to be a part of a great group and be a part of this at an early age and it’s a good feeling to me. We still got seven games left in the regular season, but to be able to clinch the playoffs ourselves and get the win outright, it means a lot to us. …  It’s a great group of guys that the front office put together and we stuck together. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, a lot of injuries here and there, but ever since the last couple of years, we built it. Now, we have the pieces together and now we’re in the playoffs.”

“It’s huge, going to the playoffs,” Otto Porter said. “We’ve worked hard all year and to get rewarded with the playoffs is huge. It means a lot to this organization, to come out, to get this win, to clinch the playoffs. It’s what we’ve been keying on since the first day we all came together before training camp. This is definitely a big accomplishment for us.”

Wizards head coach Randy Wittman is thrilled that the team is finally having some success after struggling for so many years, and he’s excited for his players to experience the postseason.

“This is five years for me here, and we were in a desperate spot not too long ago,” Wittman said. “When I took over, I just tried to keep telling our guys, Ted [Leonsis] and Ernie [Grunfeld], let’s do this the right way and build this and teach, and one day we’re going to get here. Each year, we kept putting a piece here and there, kept developing, kept maturing. Even with Nene going down missing five, six weeks now, these guys didn’t blink an eye. We had some ups and downs like you always do and we’re still learning the process of what it takes to be a really good team, but I couldn’t be happier for those guys. To be through some of the times that we were in not too long ago and be able to say for guys like John that have never been in the playoffs, I keep trying to tell him the difference of how the arena is, the intensity is, how hard it’s played, how fast it is. It’s going to seem like a whole new game to these guys. I can’t wait for them to see it. I’m just as thrilled too. This is an opportunity for me as a head coach; this is my first time and I’m looking forward to it.”

Wall will make his playoff debut after watching the Wizards land in the lottery for the four seasons of his career. The 23-year-old has had an incredible year, making his first All-Star appearance and postseason appearance several months apart. When asked to compare the two accomplishments, Wall was clear that securing a playoff berth was much more important to him.

“This is bigger than that, I told ya’ll that,” Wall said. “All-Star is my own separate goal and what I wanted to accomplish for myself, but everything I do is for the team first. I wouldn’t be able to be an All-Star and have these individual accolades without those guys, a great group of teammates. Everything I do I put my teammates’ first and my coaching staff [first]. This is what everybody wanted as a group.”

Even though the Wizards have clinched a playoff spot, their final seven games are still important because they haven’t determined their seed yet. Washington could still climb to the fifth seed (they’re just a game and a half back from the Brooklyn Nets) or slide to the seventh seed (they’re only two games up on the Charlotte Bobcats). The team understands this and is remaining focused despite this achievement.

“I mean, you celebrate tonight and get ready to go on the road and win another game,” Wall said. “That’s the main thing for me, trying to finish the season as strong as possible and prepare ourselves for a great playoff seed.”

“We want to finish strong,” Porter said. “We don’t want to rest these next couple of games just because we are in the playoffs. We want to finish out feeling good about ourselves going into the playoffs.”

If the playoffs started today, the Wizards would take on the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs.


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