Dribbles: For Cavs, Regular-Season Finale is Everything

AKRON, Ohio — Random dribbles as the Cavaliers prepare for their final game of the regular, Sunday at home vs. the defending NBA champion Bucks.Darius Garland

1. Prediction time: If the Cavs beat the Bucks, they will make the playoffs as the No. 8 seed. If they don’t, they won’t make the playoffs at all.

2. Why is this my pick? Well, if the Cavs beat the Bucks, they will enter the Eastern Conference play-in tournament as the eighth seed. They will then travel to Brooklyn to face the seventh-seeded Nets.

3. And the Cavs will lose. Nothing personal. But the Nets have Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and championship-winning experience. This is all new to Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and the young Cavs.

4. But the Cavs would then play either the Hawks or Hornets at home. If they win that game, they’re in.

5. I’d feel a lot better about their odds against the Hornets than the Hawks, but since the Cavs would play either at home, I’ll pick the Cavs.

6. In that scenario, they will enter the playoffs as the eighth seed and face the first-seeded Heat. A taste of no less than four playoff games would be invaluable.

7. OK, worst-case-scenario time.

8. If the Cavs lose to the Bucks, they stand a chance to drop to the ninth or 10th seed. I don’t see them winning two games to make the playoffs if that’s the case. It’s simply too difficult to win a road game that really matters at this time of year.

9. That is especially true with such a young team and a team that is likely to continue to be without the injured Jarrett Allen.

10. On the bright side, I’m not really sure how badly the Bucks want to win on Sunday. If they beat the Cavs, they will have secured the No. 2 seed. The Nets will likely be No. 7.

11. So who do you think the Bucks would rather play in the first round of the playoffs — the Nets, or the Raptors (No. 5) or Bulls (No. 6)?

12. So yeah, if I’m the Bucks, I’m resting all my key players. And it has nothing to do with helping the Cavs. It has everything to do with avoiding the Nets in the first round.

13. Either way, here is the bottom line: President of basketball operations Koby Altman, coach J.B. Bickerstaff and the rest of the Cavs can take great pride in this season. When healthy, they were the NBA’s best surprise.

14. Should the Cavs make the playoffs, they could get Allen back. That would be nice. They still wouldn’t beat the Heat, but it’s not about winning the series. It’s about getting to play in one and the invaluable experience it provides.

15. So no matter how you spin it, the season was a smashing success. It may end in disappointment, sure. But it was never about this season, anyway. With some tweaking of the roster and some good fortune — or more specifically, good health — the Cavs will enter next year with a lot of positive vibes.

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