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Kyrie Irving returns to bolster Cavs playoff chances down stretch

The Cleveland Cavaliers were required to beat the Orlando Magic on Wednesday in order to maintain any hope of qualifying for the postseason. In dominating fashion, by a score of 119-98, they accomplished specifically that. The Magic may not have necessarily wanted to win but that’s beside the point. It was a critical game for this group of young Cavaliers, and they left Florida with a victory they had to secure. 

The only frustrating aspect of Wednesday’s game is that some people may actually suggest this single event serves as “evidence” that the Cavaliers are—in fact—better when Kyrie Irving is playing. Of course they are. There is no way you can subtract a player like Irving and actually think your team gets better overall. Even if said team happens to win a few games while he’s injured. Which is why there is absolutely no reason the Cavs or anybody else should entertain the idea of trading him.

After missing the last eight games, Irving returned to score 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field. The Magic didn’t offer much resistance, but Irving still only missed one field goal. That efficiency, combined with 26 points from Dion Waiters on 10-15 shooting, is the primary reason why the Cavaliers have a chance to run the table over these last six games. Giving Irving and Waiters a chance to learn how to play this effectively together on a consistent basis over the next few seasons is also the same reason why this team could eventually become good.

Developing chemistry at the NBA level and learning how to play effectively alongside other talented players takes time. But last night against the Magic—after approximately 150 games and two head coaches together—Irving and Waiters demonstrated flashes of what this tandem can do. The Cavs starting guards combined for 23 points and seven assists by halftime–and along with Spencer Hawes–helped Cleveland to an insurmountable 70-47 lead at the break. Now they just need to do it again in Atlanta and five more times after that.

The Spencer Hawes effect

Spencer Hawes is playing like he really wants to bring the Republican National Convention to Cleveland in 2015. He’s also playing like he wants this Cavaliers team in the postseason. The big man hit four threes on his way to finishing with 20 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. By stepping out, creating space, and finding cutters at the rim, he continued to be a critical reason why the ball didn’t stick in the halfcourt.

I said this recently to a friend of mine about Hawes and meant it without any hint of sarcasm: If you’re going to be a team who doesn’t really implement much of an offensive system or strategy, you really need a guy like Spencer Hawes. As a big who can stretch the floor and pass on the interior, he opens up so many things naturally in the halfcourt. So while maybe a guy like Hawes doesn’t necessarily fit into every system in this League, he fits pretty well here where it’s imperative to have bigs that create.

Two down six to go

The secondary ticket market in Atlanta is off-the-chain right now in anticipation of Friday’s showdown with the Cavs. After losing last night to the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta is currently two games up on Cleveland for the eighth and final playoff spot. The New York Knicks, meanwhile, are also two games up on the Cavs and in command of the 8-seed this morning.

In my opinion, the Cavs will need to run the table from here in order to secure a playoff berth. The Hawks are three better than Cleveland in the loss column and the Knicks are two better. So while the Cavs absolutely must beat the Hawks on Friday, they must also find a way to beat Charlotte, Detroit, Milwaukee, Boston and Brooklyn after that. But along with closing the season out on an eight-game winning streak, the Cavs will also need some help. The first step in all of that, though, is beating the Hawks on Friday.

Photo: David Manning / USA TODAY Sports

Brendan Bowers

About Brendan Bowers

I am the founding editor of StepienRules.com. I am also a content strategist and social media manager with Electronic Merchant Systems in Cleveland. My work has been published in SLAM Magazine, KICKS Magazine, The Locker Room Magazine, Cleveland.com, BleacherReport.com, InsideFacebook.com and elsewhere. I've also written a lot of articles that have been published here.

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