LeBron James has been phenomenal during the Cleveland Cavaliers’ seven-game winning streak, recording four triple-doubles while the Cavaliers have seized control in the race for the Eastern Conference’s top seed.
Up for debate, however, is whether they’re the East’s hottest team.
The Atlanta Hawks can safely say that title belongs to them if they can win Saturday afternoon at Quicken Loans Arena, where both the Hawks and Cavaliers will look for their eighth straight victory in what could be a second-round playoff preview.
James has put up fantastic numbers all season to emerge as a front-runner for what would be his first MVP award, but his performance over the last two weeks may ultimately put him over the top. The NBA’s reigning scoring champion has nearly averaged a triple-double in leading Cleveland (55-13) to seven consecutive wins, putting up 31.3 points, 10.4 assists and 9.7 rebounds along with 2.4 steals and 2.1 blocks per game.
He had his fourth triple-double in the past seven games on Thursday, finishing with 26 points - 22 in the second half - 11 rebounds and 10 assists as the Cavaliers held off Portland 97-92 in overtime.
James also played 47 turnover-free minutes and Cleveland only gave the ball away twice, tying the NBA record for the fewest turnovers in a game.
“That’s good basketball. We did a good job protecting the ball,” James said. “It’s all about the team.”
The Cavaliers improved to 31-1 at home with the win over the Trail Blazers, and not only do they have a comfortable lead over Boston and Orlando for home-court advantage in the East playoffs, but they also have a one-game cushion over the Los Angeles Lakers for the league’s best record.
Atlanta (41-28) could very well meet Cleveland in the Eastern Conference semifinals, as it’s won seven in a row to widen the gap over Miami for the fourth seed and home-court advantage in the first round.
No visiting Eastern team has won at Quicken Loans Arena, but with their current run the Hawks would seem to be a tough challenge for the Cavaliers. Atlanta’s streak, though, was built entirely at Philips Arena, and it closed out its perfect homestand Thursday night with a 95-87 win over Dallas.
“We came out and fought hard this whole homestand,” Joe Johnson said after scoring a game-high 24 points. “That was the main thing. Protect our home court and try to win every game.”
Johnson hasn’t quite put up James’ numbers during the Hawks’ winning streak, but he’s certainly carried his team. The All-Star has averaged 28.3 points, 5.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds over Atlanta’s last six games, and he’s topped 30 in four of those.
The Hawks are 27-7 at home - including a 97-92 victory over Cleveland on Dec. 13 that snapped the Cavaliers’ 11-game winning streak - but they’re 14-21 on the road.
They’ve lost five of six overall away from Atlanta, and their first trip to Cleveland didn’t go well. The Hawks trailed by 16 after the first quarter in a 110-96 loss on Nov. 22, their third straight on the shores of Lake Erie.
James has never had a triple-double in 20 career meetings with Atlanta.
The Cavaliers didn’t have center Zydrunas Ilgauskas for their December loss in Atlanta, but he’s averaged 17.0 points in their two victories over the Hawks this season.
Atlanta also needs to have more success defending Mo Williams if it plans on winning Saturday. Cleveland’s All-Star point guard has averaged 23.0 points versus the Hawks this season.