The Cleveland Cavaliers face the Atlanta Hawks in the biggest game of their season, hopefully we can add so far to the end of that sentence. Currently the Cavs sit 2 games behind both the Knicks and the Hawks for the 8th seed in the East. They sit only 1 win behind the Hawks, and 2 behind the Knicks, in the win column which is vitally important in their late season playoff push. So lets look ahead to a game that could be season deciding:
The Cavaliers play the Hawks who have been without their best player, Al Horford, all season. Yet Paul Millsap is a high quality player who stretches defenses with his shooting range and ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the basket. His activity level and passing acumen also make him a tremendous teammate. Will Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao (if he plays) and Spencer Hawes be able to contain Millsap.
On defense the Hawks may use cross matching on Thompson and Hawes. Many teams lately have been putting their power forward on Hawes to defend his range and ability to put the ball on the floor. That has left Thompson being guarded by the other big man, often a center. If the Hawks do this Hawes will best be used in the post using his size and strength advantage for some easy buckets, and hopefully getting Millsap in foul trouble. Thompson on the other hand needs to confidently shoot mid range jumpers to pull the other big away from the basket. If each is able to do this the Hawks would have to abandon their plan and go back to a straight matchup. Hawes has shown this ability, Thompson has not and is key.
Irving is a star in the making while Teague may never be more then pretty good. Yet Teague is a tough matchup and hit the game winning shot the last time these two played. Which of the point guards gets their teammates involved the most will be key to the game. Will Irving, in his second game back, continue to push the pace and play within the team system? What if the game is tight or the Cavs fall behind? Will he then try to take over the game with one on one play? Both of these players do their best getting others involved first so early in the game will set the tone.
Korver is a knock down shooter and needs to be guarded as such. The Cavs may alternate having Luol Deng and Dion Waiters on him with Deng’s height and length being a bother to the shooting guard, while Waiters energy and speed can bother him all over the court. The Cavs will need to not cheat down to help in the post off of Korver. With Millsap a multiple threat, Elton Brand will be their primary low post scorer. The Cavs need to trust Thompson, Varejao and Hawes with that matchup and keep Korver from destroying the team from deep.
The Other Guy
The Cavaliers have struggled when they have allowed a team’s 4th, 5th or 6th option to go off on them. Whether it was Taj Gibson earlier in the year or Alan Anderson more recently these players have been the bane of many Cavaliers games. The Cavs must be aware on defense of how they are being exploited and combat that appropriately. Letting DeMarre Carroll, Louis Williams or Dennis Schroder score double digits could be highly problematic for the Cavs.
The Cavs can’t get overly confident, even entering the game. They have been playing well and the Hawks have struggled but the Cavs still need to win the game. Even with a big first half lead they can’t get overly confident and let the Hawks back in it in the 3rd quarter. That quarter has been tough for the Cavs for some reason and most games seem won and lost based on that performance. A stranglehold stretch early in the 3rd could put the game away for the visitors but the Cavs have to stay focused and not celebrate early.
What are you looking forward to tonight? Do you expect a win? A letdown? Where is your biggest concern?