While it's probably safe to say the Cavaliers have been the favorites for making it to the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, Atlanta proves to be one of those "quietly successful teams."
Are the Hawks good enough to beat LeBron James and his squad? We'll see. They won their series vs. Washington 4-2, and they have home-court advantage Wednesday night. Having the crowd on your side is significant, and Atlanta will look to grab a win to jump start the series.
Of course the most difficult challenge will be James, who is in full Championship-or-bust mentality. Atlanta's Kent Bazemore said the following after Tuesday's practice:
"[LeBron has] his eyes on the prize. We've got to go through him to get where we want to go."
Atlanta's DeMarre Carroll will be primarily tasked with defending James, and his abilities to do so will set the games' tone. During the regular season, The King averaged just under 24 points in three games. Carroll and the Hawks held him to 18 points in their last match-up, however, and they also forced James into nine turnovers.
As CBS Sports' Zach Harper pointed out, the Hawks have been somehow dubbed the "inexperienced" team, when in actuality Cleveland's starting lineup holds much less playoff experience. According to Harper, the Cavs' starting guys account for 228 playoff games, while the Hawks' starting lineup has 277 cumulative playoff games under its belt.
It is true, though, that Cleveland has had a much easier go of things thus far. Brooklyn gave Atlanta a run for its money in Round 1, and several of the Wizards contests in Round 2 came were decided in the final minutes... or seconds.
Kyle Korver will have to be at the top of his game in this series. The three-point guru has been tightly guarded by tough defenses throughout the playoffs, and he is only 35-of-100 from behind the arc. If Cleveland shuts down Korver on the perimeter, Atlanta will be in a tough spot.
Both teams have strong post players, but Cleveland wins in the general size category. With 7'1" center Timofey Mozgov and the support of power forward Tristan Thompson, the Cavaliers prove a serious threat beneath the basket. Atlanta does have the more athletic big man, though, in Horford. If he can successfully defend Mozgov, the Hawks should do okay. It seems likely also to expect an occasional change-up for Cleveland, shifting LeBron to PF and Thompson to center.
Cleveland will continue to play without Kevin Love (shoulder), and other key players are banged up as well. Although they are expected to play, Irving (knee), Iman Shumpert (groin) and Thompson (shoulder) are all slowed by injuries. The Hawks boast a healthy roster other than Thabo Sefolosha, who is out for the season.
What are your thoughts and predictions for this matchup? Who are you rooting for? Join the thread, and enjoy the game!