Could the Cleveland Cavaliers finish as a top-five seed in the East next season?
With the NFL releasing its 2022-23 schedule yesterday, I couldn’t help but wonder what next season’s Cavs schedule might look like.
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) May 11, 2022
Cleveland captured lighting in a bottle this season; but everyone knows that.
It’s old hat.
But there are a few reasons to believe that next season’s campaign will be even more successful.
The Cavaliers had one of the Associations’ best first halves of the season.
Cleveland stood third in the East with a 35-23 record.
And so we’re clear, the team was projected to win only 26 games on the season.
Not 26 by the break, but the S-E-A-S-O-N.
At that pace, they would have hit 50 wins by season’s end.
After the All-Star Break, things shifted.
Granted, the entire East shifted.
The Celtics, who had been puttering away playing iso ball in Boston, got a rejuvenated Al Horford, all-defensive performances out of Robert Williams and Marcus Smart, and saw Jayson Tatum hang with guys like Kevin Durant on a nightly basis.
Milwaukee, for their part, kept the ship together long enough to stay relevant in the East (and are knocking on yet another Eastern Conference Finals appearance).
Look, a team has to play strong for longer than half a season.
This year, the Bulls and Cavs were lessons in that regard.
And, if a team is going to get hot, it’s obviously best to do so at the end.
The Bucks, Celtics, and Heat were all lessons in that sense.
But for the first half of the season, Cleveland hung with all of them.
And had it not been for their own injury woes, they might have clung onto an outright playoff seed, instead of relegation to the play-in game.
Look at it this way: had the Cavaliers hit 50 wins, they would have been a comfortable no. 5 seed in the East.
No play-ins, no one-offs against the Hawks and Nets; just a guaranteed four games-plus against the no. 4 seeded Sixers.
First and foremost, everyone this offseason should get healthy.
What’s stopping this team from hitting that 50-win mark?
Anybody else missing Cavs basketball a little extra today? pic.twitter.com/6hFYJLkRQU
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) May 5, 2022
That’s only six more wins; six wins that the team, as stated, was already on pace for.
Take a team like the Memphis Grizzlies.
Last season, the Grizz finished with 38 wins in a great “aw shucks happy to be here” season.
This season, Memphis crushed expectations, winning 56 games (against a projected 41), good enough for second in the West.
Would you have pegged the Grizzlies as the West’s two seed in preseason?
The West was supposedly stacked, with Dallas, Utah, Phoenix, Denver, and Golden State all strongly favored.
And yet Memphis found a way to rise (nearly) to the top.
The Cavaliers could be looking to follow that model.
Naysayers will point to the blue-blood Celtics, Bucks, and Heat, the upstart Raptors and Bulls, and the top heavy Nets and Sixers as evidence of a too-crowded conference.
But, I say again, the Cavaliers proved to hang with all of them for stretches this season.
If a healthy Cavs team didn’t scratch out 50 wins, I’d be surprised.