The Cavs’ end-of-season stumble took another sullen step last night with an overtime loss to the Miami Heat, which included yet another blown fourth-quarter lead. They at least had the excuse of not having LeBron James or Kyrie Irving on the floor, and thus the loss is easier to explain than their recent collapses against the Hawks. But now the Cavs are a game behind the Celtics in the race for the top seed in the East, and they don’t seem too interested in fighting to get it back.
James and Irving sat out last night’s game in order to rest respective calf and knee ailments. According to ESPN, James has been ruled out of Wednesday’s finale against the Raptors, and Irving is also unlikely to play. Meanwhile, the Celtics will be finishing up their season against the Bucks. The Cavs own the tie-breaker, so a win and a Celtics loss will still get them the top seed, but they seemed destined for the two seed given the circumstances.
And maybe that’s just fine. Playoff seeding isn’t a make-or-break thing, and the Cavs are better off with James and Irving healthy, no matter who their opponent in the first round is. The one thing for Cavs fans to worry about, I suppose, is if the Bulls snatch the seven seed and set themselves up for a first-round matchup with Cleveland. The Bulls are, somehow, 4-0 against the Cavs this season.
Still, the Cavs losing their season-long grip on the top spot in the conference isn’t meaningless, and it would be a fitting way to end what has been a very bewildering second half. The questions we started asking almost a month ago—Why can’t the Cavs play any damn defense? Why can’t they hold onto a lead?—still don’t have any good answers.
It’s worth remembering that the Cavs were in rough shape headed into last season’s playoffs, and that even as the second seed they should have enough room for error to work out some kinks in the first round. But season-saving adjustments don’t just happen automatically, and there’s no reason to believe the Cavs haven’t already been trying to get things straightened out. Put simply, the Cavs need to start transforming into a completely different team as soon as tomorrow’s game agains the Raptors ends. Can they?