No easy answers at trade deadline as Cavaliers lose ground in East

The Cleveland Cavaliers followed one embarrassing blowout loss with another even more embarrassing blowout loss, losing more ground in the Eastern Conference they’ve controlled for the previous three years. The Cavaliers are now seven and a half games behind the Boston Celtics for the conference lead, and the return of Isaiah Thomas has not provided the lift Cleveland needed. The East now belongs to the Celtics and the Toronto Raptors, who both appear more likely to represent the conference in the Finals than the Cavaliers.

Toronto put up a 20-point home victory over Boston to move within a game of the Celtics, and the Raptors boast the best home record (22-4), conference record (21-7), and point differential (plus-7.8) in the East. No other team in the conference comes close to the pace Toronto and Boston are setting, including Cleveland, which went 6-8 in January before beginning February with a pair of blowout losses. Whether that is enough to force the Cavaliers into making a bold move with Thursday’s trade deadline looming remains to be seen.

No player is safe from rumours in Cleveland, where Thomas was expected to be a boost in his return from a hip injury but hasn’t shown himself healthy enough to make an impact. Even superstar LeBron James, who is expected to test free agency this offseason, was floated around as a potential trade piece, although James clarified that he would not waive his no-trade clause (http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/22351309/cleveland-cavaliers-lebron-james-says-waive-no-trade-clause-vows-finish-season-team) under any circumstances. An imposing big man like DeAndre Jordan or a playmaking point guard like John Wall would obviously be welcome additions to the Cavaliers’ lineup, but acquiring either player would come at a steep price likely involving the Brooklyn Nets lottery pick owned by Cleveland.

The Celtics are in the running to acquire Tyreke Evans from the Memphis Grizzlies, which would widen the disparity between them and the slumping Cavaliers, and the Raptors are getting more than enough contributions from bench players like Fred VanVleet to hold firm through Thursday. Boston and Toronto both appear comfortable enough to avoid taking any big risks at the deadline, while a big risk might be the only move the Cavaliers have left. Cleveland hosts the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday in one final pre-deadline appearance, and a victory would help calm the rumours, if only until the next day.