Tomorrow night should provide for an exciting and high scoring match up when the Atlanta Hawks visit the Cleveland Cavaliers. Last tear, the Cavs finished second to the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, but unfortunately for Atlanta, the Cavs had no problem sweeping them in the Eastern Conference finals last spring. The Hawks clearly remember that and will want to avenge the loss.
Their first opportunity to get some revenge will be Saturday night when they visit the Cavaliers for their first regular-season meeting between the clubs in the 2015-16 season. Roles are reversed as this time Cleveland is perched on top of the standings in the East, after they were able to recover from a two-game slide with a 115-100 win over the Milwaukee Bucks last nignt.
Last spring, the Cavs bulldozed over Atlanta, winning the first two games on the road, then took Game 3 in overtime, to then annhilationg the Hawks 118-88 in Game 4 to get to the next round.
This year, Atlanta is aready having some troubles since they have not found that free-flowing offense that was the team’s calling card last season. So far, they have averaged 92.3 points a game which they managed during a three-game slide before getting themselves out of the funk with a 103-97 win over Sacramento this past Wednesday, and they did it even through they were missing the starting backcourt.
Their injury list was long had Jeff Teague out with ankle inury and Kent Bazemore also with ankle. They are both day-to-day.
At 9-5, the Hawks are playing with confidence. Recently they lost small forward DeMarre Carroll who was their best defensive player against Cleveland’s super star LeBron James. Carroll left to free agency. And so the coaching staff has been experimenting with Paul Millsap at the No. 3 position against bigger lineups. They have slided in Kyle Korver for Bazemore, to play smaller sets with Teague in the backcourt, until he was also injured.
The Hawks have left Millsap at the power forward spot, and on Wednesday he responded with 23 points and 16 rebounds in the win. Those numbers matched his season high on the boards. Hawks’ Dennis Schroder added 22 points after struggling to a tune of 6-of-21 in the previous two games, where he started in Teague’s place. So the adjustments are working, and Atlanta will have to rely on these players to get the job done against the Cavs.
At 9-3, the Cavaliers are back on track. And there are many contributors, not just LeBron James. Backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova had scored in double figures in each of their final three games of the playoff series last year against the Hawks so he will be one to look out for. Dellavedova played a big role again on Thursday due to an injury to Mo Williams who hurt his ankle. He produced, stepping in and getting a career-high 13 assists. So he should be getting a lot of playing time again on Saturday with Williams sitting out again.
The Cavaliers have a perfect record at home being 6-0. Impressively, they have won 25 of the last 26 regular-season games in their own building. But they also have other injuries like Timofey Mozgov, who left Thursday’s game with a shoulder injury and will probably miss two weeks. The Cavs shouldn’t get too confident though, as Atlanta took the final three regular-season meetings between the teams last season and will look to continue that trend.
If the Hawks want to win, they will have to do a few thing consistently, such as slowing down LeBron James, limiting Cleveland to one shot, keeping the ball moving, and most importantly they must get a big bench effort.
A tall order for any team but we think a possible one to fill.
Our Pick: Hawks over Cavaliers, 104-101