The Cleveland Cavaliers can still clinch a spot in the NBA In-Season Tournament quarterfinals on Tuesday night, but they’re going to need some help to get there.
Cleveland takes on the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night, and the Cavs are currently 2-1 in group play so far. The Hawks (1-2 in group play) do not have a path to make the quarterfinals if they lose on Tuesday.
There are a few scenarios where Cleveland can sneak into the quarterfinals.
Right now, the New York Knicks (East Group B) are 2-1 and have a point differential of plus-18. The Knicks, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets are all 2-1 entering their games on Tuesday night.
The Cavs can guarantee a spot in the quarterfinals by winning and seeing those teams fall on Tuesday. If Cleveland wins, New York loses to the Charlotte Hornets, Boston loses to the Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn loses to the Toronto Raptors and Miami loses to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Cavs would be the only 3-1 team remaining that isn’t in first place in its own group.
So, by default, the Cavs would earn the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference.
While it may be unlikely that all of those teams lose, there is another scenario where Cleveland makes the quarterfinals.
The Cavs could finish 3-1 and have the best point differential, which would give them the tiebreaker over other 3-1 teams.
The Orlando Magic (who are currently leading East Group C) have a point differential of plus-22. New York – the team currently holding the wild card spot in the East – is plus-18 in three NBA In-Season Tournament games.
Essentially, the Cavs would have to find a way to have a better point differential than any team that could finish with a 3-1 record. Boston (even), Miami (plus-11) and Brooklyn (plus-8) are all teams the Cavs have to watch out for on Tuesday.
If Cleveland can pick up a blowout win over Atlanta, it would do wonders for the team in that department. The Cavs have a point differential of just plus-6, which means they’d need to win by 17 to guarantee that they’re clear of Orlando and at least 14 (assuming the Knicks win by one to put them at plus-19) to clear New York.
The path for the Cavs isn’t easy, but the team can still make it happen. Cleveland is eliminated with a loss.
The Cavs and Hawks are scheduled to tip off at 7:30 p.m. EST on Tuesday night.