Tonight’s matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers (31-45) and Atlanta Hawks (32-42) is one with major playoff implications, as both teams are battling for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
I wrote in-depth about the Eastern Conference playoff situation earlier today, but with only eight games left in the regular season for Atlanta and six games left for Cleveland, you don’t need an in-depth analysis to tell you how important tonight’s game is for both teams.
Tonight will mark the third and final time the Cavaliers and Hawks will meet in the 2013-2014 season, with Atlanta holding a 2-0 record over Cleveland in the two prior meetings.
In the most recent game between these Eastern Conference foes, Atlanta snuck out of the Quicken Loans Arena with a 127-125 overtime victory. Jeff Teague led the way for the Hawks with 34 points and 14 assists in a night where four Hawks scored 20 or more points. Kyrie Irving scored 40 points in a losing effort.
However, since this December 26th game, it has been a tale of two completely different teams. The Hawks, comfortably in third place in the Eastern Conference at the time, are now in ninth place and a major risk to miss the playoffs. Cleveland, meanwhile, had a 10-18 record at this point int he season and was thought to be a long shot to make the playoffs, yet is now within striking distance of the final playoff spot, just two games back of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference as a result of some strong play of late.
The Cavaliers will carry a 5-1 record over their last six games into Atlanta tonight, with all but one of these wins coming without Kyrie Irving, who returned to the lineup for Wednesday’s 119-98 victory over Orlando after sitting out the previous eight games with a biceps injury.
“This was a big game for us, but every game is big because of the position we’ve put ourselves in,” coach Mike Brown said. “There is nothing tricky that we have to do. We just have to out and play hard and give ourselves a chance.”
The Hawks, meanwhile, have lost six of seven games and are getting very close to the must-win situation the Cavaliers are currently treading in. With increasingly difficult circumstances on the horizon, especially if the Knicks keep winning, tonight presents a very important opportunity that the Hawks must capitalize on.
“We still control our own destiny,” said DeMarre Carroll, who scored eight points in last Wednesday’s 105-92 loss to the Chicago Bulls. “But now things got more interesting.”