The NBA playoffs are right around the corner, and the playoff field for both conferences is complete and the play-in picture is set.
The Brooklyn Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers both won their games Sunday, giving the Nets the top spot in the play-in round as the No. 7 seed. Cleveland is the No. 8 seed and a huge underdog.
According to star point guard Darius Garland, the Cavaliers don’t fear any team and should be considered more than just an eighth seed. He says they are a “scary” opponent for any team that has to see them.
When asked about All-Star teammate Jarrett Allen and his injury, and what that means for the team moving forward, “We’re scary with him or without him,” Garland said following the April 8 loss to the Nets.
Allen has a fractured finger, and the team has been 4-6 in the 10 games played since his injury.
Regardless of health, Garland feels like they’re a dangerous team and are a legitimate threat to defeat any team they face.
“There’s a lot of teams that don’t want to see us with him or without him,” Garland boasted. “We get him back, great. If we don’t, great. We still got basketball games to play.”
Quite big talk for the first time All-Star, who has every right to be confident. The Cavaliers have made a huge jump this year with a record of 44-38, a huge improvement from the 22-50 stinker the previous season.
The young core, led by Rookie of the Year leader Evan Mobley, has outstanding talent. The offense is jump-started by Garland, who’s averaging 22 points and eight assists per game.
Clinching a playoff spot would signify a new era, the beginning of a fruitful run after successfully rebuilding their organization post-LeBron James.
Facing the Nets will be a formidable task for an inexperienced Cavs team. The Nets aren’t your typical seventh seed.
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are finally playing together full time and have been on fire lately. Although this is a test for Cleveland, they are ready for it.
“That’s a good team over there. We’re a really good team. So, if we match up it will be another good one,” Garland said when asked about the possibility of the Cavaliers facing the Nets in the play-in.
According to the play-in tournament rules, if Cleveland loses to the Brooklyn Nets, they’ll find themselves playing either the Atlanta Hawks or the Charlotte Hornets for the right to play for the eighth seed and to ultimately play the top-seeded Miami Heat.
If they can defeat Brooklyn they can skip over all the extra play to become the seventh seed and face the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks.
Either way the pendulum swings, there are tough teams on either side of the play-in. You’re either playing the Hawks, Hornets, Nets, Heat, or the Bucks, which are teams who have all been projected as NBA champions by major sports outlets at one point or another.
It’s a tough road ahead for the Cavaliers, but regardless of what happens the team has established itself as a rising force and shouldn’t be slept on.