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Final two weeks of regular season will be wild ride for Cavaliers | Jeff Schudel

Mar. 30—The Cavaliers are a playoff team for the second straight season, but where they finish in the Eastern Conference and which team they meet in the first round might not be determined until the final game of the season.

After weeks of missing key starters Evan Mobley, Max Strus and Donovan Mitchell for various lengths of time in March, all three are back in time for the final eight games of the regular season. The Cavs needed all three March 29 to edge the Philadelphia 76ers, 117-114, at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. The win, coupled with the Spurs beating the Knicks, 130-126, moved the Cavs into third place in the East, a half-game ahead of the Knicks.

"It's funny how these last games always become such a thing, when you're thinking about the entire NBA season and the amount of games you play, but it happens every single year," Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. "The intensity elevates because these games are so valued because you know where you stand and what you're looking at. This is an intensified habit-building opportunity for us to raise our level of competition."

The Cavaliers beat the 76ers without key bench players Caris LeVert (sore wrist) and Dean Wade (knee injury). Bickerstaff said he isn't sure if Wade will return in time for the playoffs.

The next five games are on the road — at Denver on March 31, at Utah on April 2, at Phoenix on April 3, at the Lakers on April 6 and at the Clippers on April 7. The final three games are at the FieldHouse — the Grizzlies on April 10, the Pacers on April 12 and the Hornets in the final game of the regular season on April 14.

The Cavaliers have won back-to-back games only once since action resumed on Feb. 22 following the seven-day All-Star break, but Bickerstaff is not concerned.

"We get to show up every day and test our character," Bickerstaff said. "That's our players, our coaching staff, and we get to do it in front of the entire world. We are challenged every single day.

"It gives you the opportunity to show the type person you are when the chips may be down. How do you overcome adversity? I'm confident in the guys in that locker room that going through a tough time like this will make us a better basketball team."

The Cavaliers were the fourth seed in the playoffs last year. They were eliminated by the fifth-seeded Knicks in five games.