The race for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference is going to be very interesting and possibly very entertaining.
Cleveland will get another shot at returning to the playoffs for the first time in four years when it plays the winner of the Atlanta Hawks-Charlotte Hornets contest, which will take place on Wednesday.
All three teams vying for the final playoff spot in the East have strong suits, not to mention players who can go off and almost single-handedly win a big contest.
Who will earn the right to face the top-seeded Miami Heat in the first round of the postseason?
The Cavs Are Ahead Of The Curve
Although Cleveland fell short on Tuesday, it has plenty to feel hopeful about.
Darius Garland, the young All-Star guard who is just 22 years of age, did his best to give Cleveland a chance to win by scoring 34 points on 13-of-24 field-goal shooting and 3-of-6 from 3-point range, to go along with five assists, although he did have six turnovers.
— Back2Back (@B2BFR) April 13, 2022
Evan Mobley, the Cavs’ potential-laden big man, had 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting, seven rebounds and two blocked shots.
The Cavs’ strength all season has been its defense, a department in which a young team like them usually has major issues.
But Cleveland ranked seventh in defensive rating thanks in part to Mobley and fellow big man Jarrett Allen.
The Hawks Can Fly High
Atlanta is coming off a surprise season in which, despite finishing just fifth in the East, it defeated the New York Knicks convincingly in the first round of the playoffs, then upset the more-talented Philadelphia 76ers by winning Game 5 and Game 7 in Pennsylvania.
Atlanta may not be a good defensive team, but they are very potent offensively, ranking first in offensive rating and sixth in points per game.
The Hawks are lethal from the perimeter, as they made 37.4 percent of their 3-point shots during the regular season, which was second in the NBA.
Furthermore, their star, Trae Young, can beat teams seemingly by himself.
He averaged 28.4 points and 9.7 assists per game this year, and he has a number of huge games.
In February he had 41 points in a win over the Cavs, one of 10 games this season in which he scored at least 40 points.
Trae Young with 41 points on a 🔥 performance tiring down the cavs! pic.twitter.com/g53FcLABnt
— Hawks Nation (@HawksNationCP) February 16, 2022
The Hornets Are A Threat To Sting Cleveland And Atlanta
Despite a modest 43-39 regular season record, Charlotte has several players who concern opposing coaches.
The most prominent one is LaMelo Ball, who averaged 20.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 7.6 assists per game en route to a spot on the All-Star team.
Reserve forward Kelly Oubre Jr. can score, defend, finish strong at the rim and occasionally hit 3-pointers.
Charlotte is a well-balanced offensive team that averaged 115.3 points per game and ranked ninth in offensive rating.
While the Hornets can attack from multiple angles and the Cavs have the ability to hold teams down, the Hawks have the most dangerous player of the three teams and have experienced more recent playoff success than Cleveland or Charlotte.
Therefore, Young and company seem to have the best chance to claim the eighth seed in the East.