Despite three- and four-game losing streaks in the month of March, the Cavaliers have won four of their last five and are 2.5 games behind Atlanta for the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
CLEVELAND -- Two weeks ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers were finishing up a successful West Coast trip against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center, when they lost third-year point guard Kyrie Irving to a strained tendon in his left biceps.
Irving was listed as being out for 10 to 14 days after the initial diagnosis, which meant he would miss games against Miami, Oklahoma City, Houston, Toronto and Indiana at home, as well as road games at New York, Detroit and Brooklyn.
But the Cavaliers made the best of a bad situation, won four of those contests and are now 2.5 games behind the slumping Atlanta Hawks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with seven remaining in the regular season.
"We just had to stay calm," said guard Dion Waiters, who was inserted back into the starting lineup when Irving went down. "We knew they were going to make a run. At the end of the day, I was just able to go out there and make shots at the right time.
"It's great just to come out here and play a game like it's your last, give it everything you've got. We need these games, these last seven games. I think we're two games out and we've got a chance. It's in our own destiny for what we want to do. We got the win (over Indiana) and now, it's onto the next. We've got to take care of Orlando."
Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said this two-week stretch without Irving, in which they have closed a considerable gap separating them from a playoff berth, was about the team "staying the course."
"There was a stretch there where we were missing a lot of guys, Dion and Andy (Varejao)," Brown said. "Those guys played some good basketball at that time. We've had guys in and out the whole year, and our guys just kind of figure out a way.
"Since we picked up Lu (forward Luol Deng), added his veteran leadership, toughness and length on the perimeter, I think we've played some decent basketball. Every time we step on the floor, whether it's practice or a game, we get a little better. You're always going to take a hit, take a couple steps backwards, but our guys just keep fighting. Our coaches are continuing to coach them, and it's resulting in some good outcomes for us."
The Cavaliers look to continue those "good outcomes" when they head to Orlando and Atlanta this week before hosting the Charlotte Bobcats Saturday. They do so on the heels of Sunday's 90-76 victory over the Indiana Pacers, who entered the game as the top team in the Eastern Conference.
Cleveland was able to fight through being shorthanded and exceeded the physicality brought by the Pacers for what Waiters "believed" was the best 48-minute effort of the season.
"It's playoff basketball," Waiters said. "They're still playing for a season, and we're trying to get into the playoffs. Coming in, we know that's a physical team, one of the best, the best defensive team in the NBA. At the end of the day, we threw the first punch. We weren't on our heels early in the game and we just stayed with it.
"Everybody played together, moved the ball. We didn't back down. We kept coming at them all night, and we got a huge win. We stayed with it. Every time we needed a big-time basket or a play, we came up with it. I think we did a tremendous job on the glass tonight, just keeping David West and Roy (Hibbert) off the boards, and it was clicking on all cylinders for us."
In addition to playing on all cylinders against the Pacers, the Cavaliers are enjoying the ride on the way to what they hope is a postseason berth.
"It's not over until they put that 'X' beside your team's name when they say you've been eliminated from a playoff berth," forward Tristan Thompson said. "We've still got a chance. It's a great win for us with a great crowd. Now, the challenge for us is to go play against an Orlando team that plays hard for 48 minutes. Even though they're eliminated from the playoffs, they still compete and they're still going to play hard."
Rookie guard Matthew Dellavedova added, "Everyone's enjoying themselves, having fun and feeling pretty good, so we'll see what happens. I know I look every night and follow the other scores because we're still alive. I was watching the Atlanta-Washington game (Saturday) night. I think it's good motivation to know that you're still alive and we've got a shot if we play well these last seven games."