Cavs, Bulls race for second
The loser will open the postseason against defending champion Miami.
CLEVELAND (AP) -- The NBA playoffs don't officially start for another 10 days. Except for the Cleveland Cavaliers, in which case, they're already here.
With only four games remaining in the regular season, the stakes couldn't be higher for Cleveland (46-32), locked in a down-to-the wire race with the Chicago Bulls (47-32) for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference -- as runners-up to the Detroit Pistons.
The Cavaliers-Bulls winner will get a first-round matchup with the No. 7 seed, currently New Jersey. To the loser, goes the No. 5 seed and a best-of-7 series in Round 1 against the Miami Heat, who just got back Dwyane Wade from a shoulder injury and are priming for another title run.
Let's see, the Nets or Shaq, D-Wade and the defending champions?
That's a slam dunk.
"It's critical to get the No. 2 seed," Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "I want to win as many games and be seeded as high as possible. If you don't, it's still not the end of the world. You still have to beat some good teams to get where you want to go."
If the Cavaliers intend to catch the Bulls, who also have an edge in tiebreakers, and avoid the Heat, they can't afford to lose any of their final four games, beginning with a matchup at home against New Jersey tonight.
After facing the Nets in a possible playoff preview, the Cavs will play host to Atlanta on Saturday before playing at Philadelphia on Tuesday and finishing up the following night with a home game against Milwaukee.
It's the equivalent of a four-game series, and they need to win every one.
"The only way we can get to the second spot is for us to sweep, and for Chicago to stumble once," Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said. "It's a big difference sitting fifth and playing Miami and Detroit and going that way. To win it all, you have to go through everybody eventually.
"Looking at it, second place will have an easier way. It's going to be hard to beat a team like [Miami] four times. If we don't get [the No. 2 seed], we'll have to do it the hard way."
The hard way seems to be the only way the Cavaliers know.
Other than an eight-game winning streak last month, the Cavaliers have been wildly inconsistent since November.
One of their recent problems has been an inability to close out games, a deficiency that must be fixed if they have any thoughts of making a deep postseason run.
Too often, Cleveland's endgame scenario has followed a similar script with LeBron James having to take the final shot.
Sunday's loss at Detroit was no different than several others in recent weeks as James found himself isolated with the ball at the top of the key. Brown's strategy in these situations is to take advantage of James' playmaking skills to get the best shot possible.
However, what has happened more times than not is that James has been double- and triple-teamed and his teammates have either stood around and watched or they've reacted too slowly to the defense, forcing James to take tough shots.
James feels it may be time to try something new.
"When you're not successful at one play, then you do have to make a change and see if you can do it another way," he said. "For me, I feel comfortable wherever I am at on the court."
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