For several months, it has been believed that whichever teams win the last two playoff spots in the East will receive the gift of a quick exit via the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat. In a conference with two extra-heavy, dare-I-say obese favorites, the seventh and eighth seeds will be playing at a severe disadvantage in the opening round. Frankly, each would be lucky to win a single game and should maybe consider playing for little more than moral victories.
But that doesn't mean the teams on the brink of postseason participation aren't working hard to escape the lottery. The Cleveland Cavaliers, who entered Wednesday night's game against the Detroit Pistons in 10th place and 4 1/2 games behind the struggling eighth-place Atlanta Hawks, could salvage a messy, disappointing season with a late charge into the playoffs.
In that context, what the Cavs achieved in the fourth quarter of that Pistons game qualifies as pretty darn impressive. Entering the final period, Cleveland trailed 82-66. Over the course of the quarter, they battled back to get within a single point with 53 seconds left on the clock. Then, with 3.2 seconds remaining, they gave the ball to Dion Waiters for a characteristically tough jumper. Check it out below:
The 97-96 win coupled with Atlanta's blowout loss to Minnesota to bring Cleveland within 3 1/2 games of the playoffs (though still behind New York by one game and two in the loss column). The Cavs are still a long shot to jump both the Knicks and Hawks with only nine games left on their schedule, but they do have hope.
Waiters's winner brought him to 8-of-20 shooting on the night for 18 points, which helps explain why he can be both a frustrating and intriguing player. Although he's played just two seasons, Waiters looks like a prototypical high-volume shooter who will never become particularly efficient. However, he shows enough flashes that he should continue to attract certain NBA executives for at least a few years. He has skills, even if they're often obscured by some of his worst habits.
The Pistons, meanwhile, fell to two games behind the Cavaliers in the East standings and are now all but mathematically eliminated from postseason contention. Yet that's not such a bad outcome for the franchise. If they continue to hold the eighth-worst record in the league, they will keep the protected first-round draft pick they traded to the Charlotte Bobcats as part of June 2012's incredibly depressing trade involving Ben Gordon and Corey Maggette. The playoffs would be nice a short-term reward, but sometimes other prizes are worth more.
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