Should the Hawks see their opponent from Wednesday’s season finale later in the postseason, they’re going to see a far different version of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers are 0 for 3 with LeBron James(notes) resting down the stretch, and the reigning MVP will sit again at Philips Arena as Atlanta tries to avoid a 10th straight loss against the NBA’s top team.
Cleveland (61-20) wrapped up the league’s best record April 4, so the past 10 days have been a mere dress rehearsal for the second consecutive postseason in which it will be favored to reach the NBA finals.
James played all but the Cavaliers’ finale last season before they were beaten by Orlando in the Eastern Conference finals, and perhaps with that in mind, coach Mike Brown has opted to get his superstar some extensive rest.
Williams and Jamison played in the first three quarters of a 98-92 loss to the Magic on Sunday.
Atlanta may have gotten an early playoff preview Monday in Milwaukee. The Hawks won 104-96 behind 31 points from Johnson, and when Chicago beat Boston on Tuesday, that locked Atlanta into the No. 3 seed and a likely first-round meeting with the Bucks. That also allows it to avoid Cleveland until the conference finals.
“I think the focus tonight was a little different considering this is a potential matchup in the playoffs,” Johnson said. “Knowing we had this game and one more left for the regular season, we want to go out with a bang and go into the postseason with some momentum.”
Jamal Crawford’s(notes) status is unclear for Wednesday after he sat Monday with what coach Mike Woodson called “nagging injuries,” but the Hawks’ biggest concern against Cleveland should be on the boards.
The Cavaliers have won the rebounding battle against Atlanta in eight straight games by an average of 11.5. They owned a 55-36 edge in a 93-88 win April 2 despite missing O’Neal and Anderson Varejao(notes), and that had Woodson struggling to explain his team’s inability to beat Cleveland.
“I wish I knew,” he said. “It’s been a close game in the fourth and we can’t seem to find any offense.”