CLEVELAND — Friday evening, the Cleveland Cavaliers had a chance to reach the playoffs for the first time without Lebron James, since the 1998 season. The Cavs came within one game of that happening — losing a must win game that would have given them the eighth seed in the NBA playoffs.

Cleveland led the Atlanta Hawks for majority of the game, but went cold late. After leading by as many as 14, the Cavs fell to the Hawks, 107-101.

Hawks now get a crack at the top seeded Miami Heat in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.

Cleveland was projected to have a losing season and miss the playoffs. They missed the playoffs with a win, but the 44-38 record is a big improvement.

Going forward, the Cavs have a very good; young nucleus of players. Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen are all 24 years old, or younger.

“That I know this moment will do is motivate him. I know what his work ethic is and I know what he’ll look like over the summer and he’s going to come back even better next year,” head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of Garland following the game.

Garland was an all-star for the first time in his career this season and took a huge leap in his third season as a professional.

Cleveland missed Sexton against the Hawks; it was felt. Sexton tore the meniscus in his left knee and only played in 11 games this season. Over his four years with the Cavs, Sexton has averaged 20 points a game. Cleveland will be glad to have that back next season.

Cavs traded for Caris LeVert this season, but by missing the playoffs they keep their first round pick. The draft pick was sent to the Indiana Pacers, but was lottery protected. That will likely add another young player to the team, helping Cleveland continue to improve. Another option for the team could be to trade that pick.

Missing the playoffs did not feel like a defeat for the Cavs, even in a game they should have won, controlled most of the way. The team is ahead of schedule and reaching the play-in was a major step forward. Pieces are in place for a bright future.

By Brandon Little