NBA Playoff Preview: Cleveland vs Atlanta
The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Atlanta Hawks square off in the Eastern Conference semifinals starting next week. The Cavaliers swept the Detroit Pistons in four games that were close and contested but not nearly as taxing as the six-game marathon that the Atlanta Hawks endured in eliminating the Boston Celtics from the playoffs. This means that the Cavaliers have had a lot more time to relax and now await the Hawks with fewer bumps and bruises. Game 1 is Monday night in Cleveland. Find out the latest NBA betting odds here.
NBA Playoff Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers vs Atlanta Hawks
Why should you bet on the Cavaliers?
There have been some years in the playoffs when LeBron James looked soft and vulnerable. You saw it early in his career when the Celtics had the Cavs down for the count, and James just stood out there on the floor, watching the rest of the players on the floor go past him. You saw it in that title series against the Spurs, when an air conditioning malfunction sent King James to the bench in agony. You saw it in 2011, when the team-first, defense-first approach of the Dallas Mavericks unraveled the Big Three theory in Miami. But he was not there against Detroit, playing more like the Angel of Death than someone who was likely to fall apart at the slightest opportunity. He took hard hits from Marcus Morris and Andre Drummond, and he heard a lot of trash talk from Stanley Johnson, but he just kept playing — and just kept winning.
The best Cavalier from that round, though, was Kyrie Irving. Irving became just the second LeBron teammate to outscore the King in a playoff series and the first since Dwyane Wade did it in those 2011 Finals. Irving scored 27.5 points per game and knocked down 47 percent of his shots from downtown, a lot of them off the dribble. In the three meetings between Atlanta and Cleveland this year (all wins for the Cavs), the two scored a total of 54.8 points per game. If they keep this up, the Cavs will win this easily.
Why should you put your money on the Hawks?
When the Atlanta Hawks eliminated Boston, they found a way to defeat standout point guard Isaiah Thomas. Now they have to do the same thing against an even better player in Irving. However, they may have found the formula in the way they dealt with Boston. Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroeder will have a tough task in Irving, but if they can’t meet the challenge, this will be a really short series.
The Hawks also have to commit themselves to strong rebounding. They don’t do well on the boards, and James, Thompson and Love, the Hawks could find themselves giving up second chance baskets all over the place. It’s easy to lose your morale if the other team is getting put-back after put-back.
If the Hawks are going to win, their defense will have to make a concerted stand. They showed they could do it against Boston, limiting them to 38.8 percent shooting from the floor and 28.7 percent from downtown in Games 1 through 5 and then reducing those to 36.2 percent and 21.9 percent in Game 6. There were 42 games this year when the Hawks held opponents under 100 points, and they went 33-9 in those games.
Expert Pick and Final Series Prediction
I like the plucky Hawks, but I don’t think beating Isaiah Thomas is the same as beating LeBron, Kyrie and Kevin. I’m predicting the Cavaliers in five.