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Breaking down the NBA play-in tournament: Where the Cleveland Cavaliers stand

Here's what you need to know as the Cavs compete for a potential spot in the 2022 NBA playoffs.
Credit: AP
Darius Garland of the Cleveland Cavaliers. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Cavaliers have been locked into next week’s NBA play-in tournament along with the Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets. The four participants are known, but what seed they will all end up with is still a mystery.

We do know when the games will be, as the NBA announced on Thursday the schedule for its tournament. On Tuesday, April 12, the game between the seventh and eighth place teams will take place in both conferences. On Wednesday, April 13, the games between ninth and 10th will take place, with the final play-in games then following on Friday, April 15.

The Cavaliers, in particular, could end up in any seed between seventh and 10th. That said, the combinations of games that could be seen in the tournament are far from set. The Cavs could face any of the teams still alive in either the seven-eight game or the game between ninth and 10th.

Here’s how the Cavs match up with their potential play-in tournament foes.

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Atlanta Hawks – Hawks won season series 3-1

A matchup with the Hawks wouldn’t rank as the scariest for the Cavs in a win-or-go-home setting, but it wouldn’t be the most comfortable either. Atlanta has had little problem lighting up the scoreboard against the Cavs this season. In Atlanta’s three wins over the Cavs, the Hawks have averaged 125.3 points per game. That said, in two of Atlanta’s three wins, the Cavs were missing some combination of Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen.

In terms of feared individuals, Atlanta’s Trae Young likely ranks third among opponents the Cavs could face in the play-in. Only in his fourth season, Young seems to show up in the biggest moments. This is an Atlanta team with a significant amount of playoff experience after the team’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals last year. Young could go off for 40-plus points at any time, which could signal the end to Cleveland’s season if he does.

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Brooklyn Nets – Nets won season series 3-1

The Brooklyn Nets are without question the scariest opponent the Cavaliers may end up facing in the play-in tournament. This is a Brooklyn team that was among the preseason favorites to win the NBA title. Even as things stand right now, the Nets, despite currently being in eighth place and subjected to the play-in, sit with the second-best odds to win the Eastern Conference and the third-best odds to win the NBA Finals. While former MVP James Harden is no longer in the picture after a midseason trade to Philadelphia, the Nets still feature the two best players in the tournament in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Either Durant or Irving could score 50 points in a play-in game, and no one would bat an eye. Those two are special talents and create headaches for opponents – and their own team, at times. Friday night’s matchup between the Cavs and the Nets will go a long way toward determining the seeding for the tournament, too.

Charlotte Hornets – Season series tied 2-2

The Cavs and Hornets somehow ending up in the game between seventh and eighth would be the ideal matchup for both teams. The Hornets are certainly a talented team, but there’s no questioning that they’re not nearly as scary as both Brooklyn and Atlanta. While the Hornets have gotten a bit healthier lately in adding Gordon Hayward back into the mix, they’re not exactly loaded with stars the way the Nets are, and don’t feature anyone like Atlanta’s Young, either.

This is the team the Cavs would matchup with the best, but right now, it seems like the Hornets may be the unlikeliest of all the foes.

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Editor's note: Video in the player above was originally published in an unrelated story on April 6, 2022.

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