Cavaliers Clinch Playoff Berth After Pistons Lose to Rockets

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 23, 2018

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James celebrates after scoring in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, in Cleveland. The Cavaliers won 101-95. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Tony Dejak/Associated Press

The Cleveland Cavaliers clinched a berth in the 2018 NBA playoffs Thursday by virtue of the Detroit Pistons' 100-96 overtime loss to the Houston Rockets

The three-time defending Eastern Conference champions joined the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics as the only teams in the East to wrap up playoff spots thus far. 

That said, it's been a roller-coaster campaign for Cleveland.

The Cavaliers were under .500 through 13 games (6-7) before winning 17 of their next 18 contests, including a 13-game winning streak, to seemingly right the ship.

They fell into another slump around Christmas, however, and a prolonged period of lackluster play led the front office to shake up the roster in a major way before February's NBA trade deadline.

Cleveland acquired George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. and dealt away Dwyane Wade, Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert and Jae Crowder in an effort to reshape the roster around LeBron James.

Cavs general manager Koby Altman explained he felt the shake-up was necessary because the team was "marching a slow death," per Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com.

"I think, in large part, we addressed the culture of the team and the building," Altman said. "And I would imagine a lot people on the conference call that have been around our team saw the lack of energy and enthusiasm, and that was really disappointing to me."

While there was an initial resurgence after the deadline frenzy, the Cavaliers' up-and-down play has returned during the stretch run. There was never any legitimate concern about qualifying for the playoffs, but their status as a title contender is up for debate.

One thing's for sure: It's a crucial postseason appearance for the Cavs with James' future up in the air.

The 33-year-old, four-time Most Valuable Player, who's been the NBA's gold standard for the past decade, can utilize an option on his contract to become an unrestricted free agent at season's end. If he decides to leave Cleveland, the team's title window could close for a while.

With the Cavs' place in the playoffs now locked in, they have a little time to push toward peak form with the Raptors and Celtics having emerged as the Eastern Conference's top teams.

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