The Cleveland Cavaliers made the playoff their firm goal, started poorly, traded for Luol Deng, fired their general manager, re-affirmed their playoff priority and backed it up by trading for Spencer Hawes.
By winning the first two games of their current road trip – at Phoenix, at Golden State – the Cavaliers finally looked like they could make the playoff race interesting (aided heavily by the Atlanta Hawks’ free fall).
But Cleveland’s loss Sunday probably ends that postseason hope, and I don’t mean the loss to the Clippers, though that setback dropped the Cavaliers to 4.5 games behind Atlanta.
Kyrie Irving left the game after just 10 minutes due to injury.
Irving is Cleveland’s top player, averaging 21.5 points and 6.3 assists per game this season. That alone is a large loss to overcome.
But he’s also the Cavaliers’ rock. He’s in each of their dozen most-used lineups, and the 13th-most used lineup hasn’t played since November. The next four most-used also feature Irving. They’re just not used to doing anything without him.
With games against the Heat, Thunder and Rockets up next – and chances to gain ground in the playoff race disappearing – it’s not a great time to adjust on the fly.
Unless the Cavaliers are adjusting to a tanking strategy. Then, they’re sitting pretty.