You've my heard my crackpot prediction — Cavaliers in 5 — and KD throws in his two cents below, but we also called in some of the NBA blogosphere's finest to help set up the Eastern Conference Semifinals. On deck: "CavsBlogger" from Fear The Sword and "HawksDawgs" from Peachtree Hoops breakdown the Cleveland-Atlanta series.
Fear The Sword: It’s been a long time. No, I mean really. It has been a long time! Since the Cavaliers last played a basketball game, the world saw the start, and alleged end to a pandemic flu, the team saw one of its own win the MVP Award for the first time in franchise history, and world economy has rebounded. OK, so that last one was a stretch, but is has been 10 days since the Cavaliers laced them up, finishing off a sweep of the Detroit Pistons.
Up next are the Atlanta Hawks, who needed seven games to win the worst 7-game series in playoff history. All seven games were determined by double-digits, with the average margin of victory a shade under 20-points. Ugh. You’d think the Hawks would have the advantage in Game 1 since the Cavaliers haven’t played in so long, a point I would’ve agreed with until it was announced LeBron James won the MVP Award. With the press conference taking place today in Akron, it is likely that David Stern will present James the award in front of the home crowd before Game 1. Advantage Cavs.
In fact, all the advantages favor the Cavs after the "let’s hope the Cavs are rusty" angle. The Cavaliers won three of four over the Hawks this year, including two dominating performances at The Q. The Hawks proved they are up to any challenge last season with the way they played against Boston. Can they duplicate the effort against the Cavaliers? I don’t think they can. After a 7-game series in which they looked so bad on the road, you know the Cavaliers will win one of two in Atlanta. That means the Hawks need to beat Cleveland twice at The Q. No chance.
The Hawks are young and exciting, but where the Cavaliers really have an advantage is late in the ball-game. The Cavs have become the definition of execution in the 4th quarter, tightening the clamps defensively and getting the hell out of LeBron’s way on offense. The Pistons couldn’t stop LeBron no matter what they did, and Atlanta has neither the experience or defensive-prowess of the Pistons. Advantage Cavs.
I expect this series to be tougher than Round 1, especially on the road. The Phillips Arena-crowd has come on strong in the post-season and they will be in full throat. It is still about talent in the NBA, however, and the Cavaliers have the better starters, the better bench and the best player on the planet. Needless to say, advantage Cavs!
Cavaliers in 5.
Peachtree Hoops: The good news if you are a Hawks fan is, sooner or later, you are going to be given no shot of winning a series. And if Boston last year is any indication, that is a pretty fun place to be.
Most Hawks devotees are really excited just to make it to the second round. Understandable really. Three years ago the t-shirt cannons just shot one prize to each person in the stands of Phillips Arena. The team, the city, the franchise have come a long way. Like multiple marathons. Still, most of us expect the Hawks to lose, and yet, a lot of us expect the series to be a fight. That may seem incongruent and crazy, but incongruent and crazy is the wheelhouse for a man like Josh Smith.
Certainly the Cavs hold a lot of advantages in this series. LeBron, better eastern European center, home court, but one I refuse to give them is the two guard. Joe Johnson is a large man and a great basketball player. Against Delonte West, he should be able to remain patient and get the shot he wants. I expect double teams and the advantage is moot if Joe cannot pass out of it or the shooters cannot hit the open look, but I anticipate big things out of our all-star either in the assists or point category. Maybe even both.
I have no properly segue for this point, but I feel like it is important. Just a heads up to Anderson Varejao. Zaza Pachulia plays as cheap, dirty, and tough as you. Except he is totally fine with punching someone in the face.
The key to the Hawks staying competitive though is their health. Al Horford had no lift in game seven because of his injured ankle. He is already undersized and dwarfed by Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Without the explosiveness and quickness to counter act the facts of nature, the Hawks are in big trouble. Like not even the fun kind of trouble.
Also, if I can remember correctly, Marvin Williams has grown into quite the capable one on one defender. Unfortunately, he has been injured, first with a back and now with his wrist, so that he has not played meaningful minutes in more or less what feels like forever. It was fine to be without Marv against James Jones, but the Hawks need him now. During the other Cav games this year, he has never shut down LeBron, but Marvin forced difficult, contested shots without many double teams. Mo Evans on the other hand will be an excellent "and 1" partner for the King ... please get better Marvin.
In the end, the Hawks are not better than the Cavaliers. Luckily, they are extremely athletic and have moments of greatness. Atlanta can scare the sweet good goodness out of LeBron, the city Cleveland, and the national media. They could do it four times too. However, since I have watched 89 of their games, I am going to go with just once.
Cavs in 5.
Kelly Dwyer: If I'm sensible, you take the Cavaliers in five or six. It's hard to beat an average-to-great team four times running, even if you're a championship contender like the Cavaliers. And it's doubly-hard — well, OK, not twice as hard — to take down the Hawks in Atlanta. They play well there. Not sure if you've heard. And the Hawks have beaten Cleveland in Georgia once this season, though Cleveland was without Big Z, and the lone Cleveland win at the Highlight Factory was by only one point.
But I can't trust Atlanta, and I can bank on the Cavs. On on national TV this Sunday, at home, in a scene we've seen before ... I still think the Cavs win. And then, down 0-3, the Hawks fold in Game 4. But that's just me. Freaknik always left me cold.
Cavs in 4.