Report: Cavs kept their eyes on 76ers for ‘months’ fearing potential nightmare 1st-round matchup

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The Cleveland Cavaliers reportedly kept their eyes on the Philadelphia 76ers for “months,” as they were worried about facing them in a potential first-round playoff matchup.

In the end, Cleveland avoided the Sixers in the opening round, earning the No. 4 seed and setting up a matchup with the No. 5-seeded Orlando Magic. Philadelphia, which won in the play-in tournament on Wednesday night, will face the No. 2-seeded New York Knicks in the first round of the playoffs.

“The Cavs had their eye on Philadelphia for months, wondering if the loss of Joel Embiid would drop the Sixers low enough to create the type of nightmare first-round matchup that could wreak destruction here if it didn’t go the Cavs’ way,” The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd wrote.

Cleveland made the playoffs last season, but it lost in the first round to the Knicks in just five games. The team has won just one playoff game since LeBron James left the franchise for the Los Angeles Lakers, and the team hasn’t won a playoff series without James on the roster since Dan Gilbert bought the team.

“Regardless of what happens in the second round or after, if the Cavs can beat the Magic, Gilbert will get the series victory he has long coveted and this front office can show incremental progress year over year,” Lloyd wrote.

Obviously, a lot is on the line for Cleveland in the first round against Orlando. Not only does the team finally want to advance in the playoffs without James, but it also could use a playoff run to help convince Donovan Mitchell to remain with the franchise. Mitchell is eligible to sign an extension in the coming offseason.

Cleveland split its season series with both the Magic (2-2) and the Sixers (2-2), but it appears the team is happy to face an inexperienced Orlando team rather than Embiid, the reigning league MVP.

Still, the Magic are a tough opponent, as they finished the regular season with a 47-35 record, just one game back of the Cavs in the East.

Cleveland wouldn’t have to face Philly until the Eastern Conference Finals (if both teams make it there) since the Sixers are on the opposite side of the bracket in the East. Instead, the Cavs would play the winner of the matchup between the Boston Celtics and the No. 8 seed in the East in the second round.

Ultimately, the Cavs have to play much better than they did in last year’s playoffs if they finally want to make a run in the postseason.

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Peter is a graduate of Quinnipiac University where he covered the MAAC and college basketball for three years. He has worked for NBC Sports, the Connecticut Sun and the Meriden Record-Journal covering basketball and other major sports. Follow him on Twitter @peterdewey2.