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What's at stake: Why a Cavs play-in win over the Hawks would be huge for the Pacers
With a 2022 first-round pick on the line, the Pacers and their fans should be rooting for a Cavs victory Friday night against the Hawks.
UPDATE: The Cavaliers led by 10 at halftime, then Trae Young scored 32 of his 38 points in the second half to lead the Hawks to a comeback win, 107-101.
Nate McMillan’s Hawks move on to play the top-seeded Heat. The Cavs keep their pick and owe the Pacers their 1st — again with lottery protections — in 2023.
There should be a lot of Pacers fans tuned in for the first of two play-in games on Friday night. The Cleveland Cavaliers host the Atlanta Hawks with the winner advancing to be the 8 seed in the 2022 playoffs.
The other team’s season is over.
So why are the Pacers invested and fans should care? There’s one BIG reason.
If the Cavs WIN and thus qualify for the playoffs, their first-round pick is sent to the Pacers as part of a trade-deadline package for Caris LeVert. It’ll be No.w 16 or 17 — determined by a coin flip — which is a high-value pick just outside the lottery (picks 1-14).
However, the Cavs keep the pick if they LOSE to the Hawks.
That’s because the pick is lottery protected, which means if it’s Pick 1 through 14, they retain it. And then the Cavs would owe the Pacers their 2023 first-round pick with the same lottery protection.
If the Cavs are in the lottery again the following year, it becomes two second-round picks: Cavs' in 2025 and the Lakers' in 2026.
“One thing I’ve learned over my 38 years in the league,” head coach Rick Carlisle said recently, “… watching games at night hoping for one team to win, one team to lose just doesn’t get you anywhere. What’s gonna happen on the exterior is gonna happen on the exterior. What we need to do is concentrate on our process.”
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At the time of the trade, back on Feb. 6, it seemed highly likely to convey to the Pacers this season. I even wrote “It will likely be a pick in the early 20s.” The Cavs were slotted 21st at the time.
The drop-off is mostly due to injuries. Caris LeVert missed time; Jarrett Allen fractured a finger, but he appears to be on track to play Friday. The Cavs are also a young team so there have been new experiences and lessons learned along the way.
After a 25-57 season, the Pacers’ first-round pick will be slotted inside the top 10 for the first time since 1989.
If the Cavs win, the Pacers will have two first-round picks and three inside the top 31 come June. (They also received the Rockets’ 2022 second-round pick as part of the trade.)
That’s important for three reasons.
The Pacers get clarity on their situation and know for certain when they’ll receive the additional selection.
They could have a big offseason with potentially three impactful young players added in the draft.
It gives them the option to package multiple draft picks to either move up or trade for a player already in the NBA.
“There will be lot of things on our boards upstairs that (the front office) will look at,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got to find the right moves at the right time, pull those triggers and move forward with momentum.”
So if you watch tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN, Pacers fans and the front office alike will be rooting for the Cavs. And hoping former head coach Nate McMillan’s Hawks don’t get in the way.
The Cavs have lost four of their past five games, including Tuesday in Brooklyn. They're 1-3 against the Hawks this season.