Mar 6, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) is guarded by Atlanta Hawks guard Kent Bazemore (24) during the second half at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Cavaliers 106-97. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
The Cleveland Cavaliers are battling through the 2015 NBA Playoffs and find themselves matched up against the No. 1 seeded Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
There may be some trepidation about facing the top team in the bracket, but there’s an argument to be made that the Cavs are better off playing the Hawks, rather than the Washington Wizards, who were eliminated by Atlanta in six games.
Yes, you’re reading this right. The Cavs are better off playing Hawks and not having home-court advantage in the ECF, and here’s five reasons why:
1. In a seven-game playoff series, the Wizards are the scarier team. Paul Pierce isn’t afraid of LeBron James and John Wall played a fantastic Game 6, despite suffering the fractures in his hand. Atlanta, on the other hand, shouldn’t have Cavs Country reaching for the Pepto Bismol.
May 6, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) drives during the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bulls in game two of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
David Blatt and his coaching staff will have had six days to prepare for the Hawks. In that time, he, Tyronn Lue and company will be able to breakdown rotations, scheme against 3-point threat Kyle Korver and prepare for the ball movement Atlanta became know for throughout the season.
The time off favors the Cavs. Blatt can take away Korver, who–while still good–isn’t as super effective from downtown as he was during the regular season when he shot 49 percent from 3-point range. For the playoffs, he’s shooting at a 35 percent clip. Still good, but not out-of-this-world great.
2. The Hawks’ other All-Stars, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague, have had some troubles this postseason. Millsap has been banged up with a shoulder injury and his scoring is down from 16 points per game during the regular season to around 11 in the playoffs.
Teague was great in the clincher against the Wizards, but in the playoffs, he’s not shooting well. He’s shooting around 40 percent after shooting 46 percent during the regular season. In the first three games of the Eastern Conference semis, Teague shot 12-of-41 (29 percent).
3. Atlanta has no true superstar. The Hawks’ “we’re the Spurs of the East” philosophy has gotten the franchise to this point, but who’s going to come up big when they need it most?
The Hawks haven’t had to answer that question yet, and the ECF will be a pressure cooker unlike many of its players have ever experienced. The notion that a team, and not a superstar can win, is something we’d all like to believe in, and it does happen (the Pistons of the early 2000s come to mind) but the NBA is a superstar driven league. Give me the team with LeBron James on it in the final two minutes over the unit everyone is saying peaked three months ago.
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4. Yes, the Hawks have own the home court, but do you think for one second LeBron cares? This is a guy who’s won a road game in his last 20 consecutive playoff series. That’s second only to Michael Jordan (24). With that stat already going into the Cavs’ favor, in addition to the shared belief that Atlanta’s arena isn’t a tough place to play, not having home court shouldn’t be a huge hinderance.
5. The NBA did the Cleveland Cavaliers a huge favor prior to their clincher against the Bulls when the league stated the conference finals would begin Wednesday, no matter what. That gave the Cavs extra incentive to go out and put a whooping on Chicago, which of course, they did.
Now, by the time Atlanta and Cleveland tip off, Kyrie Irving will have had six days to rest his left knee and his right foot. If Irving can be the same player he was in Game 5, the Cavs will still be owners of the two most talented players on the floor.