When the NBA trade deadline passed yesterday without a Cavalier move, I was relieved.
Yes, the news of a potential Shaquille O’Neal trade was exciting, but in the end, it’s a good thing the Cavaliers stayed with the same roster. this team has chemistry and a flow to them unseen throughout the rest of the league. When healthy, there is only one team in the East that can slow them down….themselves.
Entering action tonight, the Cavaliers have the best record in the NBA Eastern Conference (by percentage points over Boston), and their fortune could improve vastly overthe next few weeks. Here’s why;
There are only three teams battling for the top in the East, Cleveland, Boston, and Orlando. Over the next 2 weeks, a lot will be on the line in this season-long 3-team war. Here’s the outlook I see for each of the contenders;
Orlando – 39-14 (.736)
The Magic were actually the NBAs best not long ago. In mid-January, they came off a rough west-coast trip unscathed, having knocked off the Lakers and Denver as part of a 4-game swing. Since then, they’ve been in trouble. They have only won 6 of their 12 games since, and only one of those wins was against a team currently playoff-bound.
Starting point-guard and All-Star Jameer Nelson was injured during the last few weeks, and it has led directly to the current slump. Nelson is now out for the season and the Magic may be ready to hit the panic button, and it showed when they scrambled at the last minute yesterday to trade for Houston’s Rafer Alston. Alston’s a good player, but whether or not he will fit in remains to be seen. meanwhile, Orlando’s schedule over the next few weeks has the potential to expose the Magic weaknesses.
They’ll probably beat 22-32 Charlotte tonight (leading by 14 at halftime), but then comes potential danger;
- 2/22 – Miami (28-25)
- 2/24 – at Chicago (24-30)
- 2/25 – at New York Knicks (22-31)
- 2/27 – Detroit (27-26)
- 2/28 – at Philadelphia (27-26)
- 3/3 – Phoenix (30-23)
- 3/6 – New Jersey (24-31)
- 3/8 – at Boston (44-12)
- 3/9 – at Detroit (27-26)
- 3/11 – Chicago (24-30)
Three back-to-backs in ten games is brutal, especially since five of those games are on the road and all six are against teams either locked into the playoffs or at the doorstep.
In my eyes, Orlando has to go 8-2 in this stretch. 7-3 may be acceptable, but they’re already 3.5 games back of the lead in the east. If they only go 6-4, they may be too far back to catch up down the stretch.
Boston – 44-12 (.786)
The last time the Celtics went on a west-coast trip, their wheels fell off. The hit the road on a 19-game win streak, and watched their fortunes sink as they dropped seven of their next nine games.
Last night, Boston began a 4-game trip west of the Rockies and it didn’t go well. At all. The Utah Jazz used a strong finish to beat the Celtics 90-85, and they also lost Kevin Garnett to a knee injury. Garnett tried to come back in the second half during warmups, but team doctors kept him out. He’s returned home for the rest of the road trip for further evaluation, including an MRI tomorrow. In injury-speak, that spells trouble.
The Celtics schedule might be the most troubling for them, espceially if Garnett is out longer than the rest of this current trip. Here’s the upcoming round for them;
- 2/22 – at Phoenix (30-23)
- 2/23 – at Denver (37-17)
- 2/25 – at L.A. Clippers (13-42)
- 2/27- Indiana (22-34)
- 3/1 – Detroit (27-26)
- 3/4 – at New Jersey (24-31)
- 3/6 – Cleveland (42-11)
- 3/8 – Orlando (39-14)
- 3/11 – at Miami (28-25)
That is not an easy schedule. Phoenix is without Amare Stoudemire, but with an almost-young-again O’Neal going up against a weak Boston bench…that Garnett injury will stand out there.
Their saving grace might be having Cleveland and Orlando both at home, but those two games might be do-or-die for Boston. These nine games will tell a LOT about Boston, and their ability to overcome injury. Best-case scenario for the Celtics is 7-2, worst-case is 3-6. If the worst happens, Boston may be in trouble down the stretch. They NEED home-court advantage and they know it, having lost their first six road games (and going 3-9 overall) in the playoffs last season.
Cleveland – 44-12 (.788)
Staying strong through injuries is exactly what the Cavaliers have done all season. Losing Ilgauskas, Delonte West and Sasha Pavlovic for extended periods could have been devastating, but the Cavs have stayed on top. West is ready to return and might be back as early as Sunday.
Back-to-back losses to the Lakers and Indiana just before the All-Star break doesn’t seem to have slowed down the Cavs either. But two big road trips in the next few weeks will also test the mettle.
- 2/20 – at Milwaukee (27-30)
- 2/22 – Detroit (27-26)
- 2/24 – Memphis (15-39)
- 2/26 – at Houston (33-21)
- 2/27 – at San Antonio (36-17)
- 3/1 – at Atlanta (32-22)
- 3/2 – at Miami (28-25)
- 3/4 – Milwaukee (27-30)
- 3/6 – at Boston (44-12)
- 3/7 – Miami (28-25)
- 3/10 – at L.A. Clippers (13-42)
These ten games have plenty of potential slips in them, especially Miami, San Antonio and Boston. But there also lies 6 games against teams we are clearly stringer than. Win the games you should and surge in the tough games, and this could be the stretch that helps the Cavaliers pull away. But they know the key lies in the one thing they can’t control….their own health. Stay focused and stay healthy and by the time March 10th comes along, they could have a 2-or-3 game lead.
Story By The Buckeye Battle Cry