Cleveland is in the NBA’s dance.
And with LeBron James plus an improving defense, they may be the team to beat.
The Cavaliers became the second team to clinch a playoff spot when they knocked off the Indiana Pacers 95-92 Friday night. The Cavaliers are the two seed (the top seed Hawks are the other team to clinch), the loss made the Pacers the nine seed and put 12.5 games between them with a dozen games left.
LeBron had 29 points and seven boards to lead the way.
Since LeBron came back from a couple weeks off to get his mind and body right — plus a couple trades to bring in Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert to improve Cleveland’s defense — the Cavaliers have been as good as anyone in the East. They are 11-4 in their last 15 games, with the best offense in the NBA in that stretch at 110.4 points per 100 possessions. They have outscored opponents by more than 8 points per 100 possessions in that stretch.
And the Cavs just seem to be getting better.
The Hawks are legit — you could see the last couple games how much they miss Kyle Korver and his work on the weak side — and even with that improved defense the Cavaliers are still 18th in the NBA in defensive efficiency in the last 15 games. Yes, their defense was that bad early in the season. They still are not great on that end.
But they may be good enough to come out of the East. At least we know they are going to get a chance to prove it.