Hawks continue key homestand versus Cavaliers (Mar 03, 2017)

ATLANTA — An extended string of home games may stoke the aspirations of the Atlanta Hawks to improve their standing in the Eastern Conference. They’ll just have to do it against some of the league’s best teams, starting Friday against the first-place Cleveland Cavaliers, which continues to add pieces for its own championship run.

Atlanta hosts the Cavaliers in the second contest of a six-game homestand. The Hawks (34-26), who are trying to clinch a playoff spot for the 10th consecutive season, are fifth in the East — 1 1/2 games behind Toronto. Cleveland (41-18) has the best record in the East and holds a 71/2 game lead over Atlanta.

Atlanta and Cleveland haven’t played since Nov. 8, when the Hawks prevailed 110-106 in Cleveland. They meet for the final two times in a back-to-back in March.

Cleveland will not yet have the services of center Andrew Bogut, who signed as a free agent and is likely to join the team in Miami on Saturday. Bogut was averaging 3.0 points and 8.3 rebounds with the Mavericks before he was traded to Philadelphia at the deadline.

The 76ers waived Bogut so he could pursue his own deal with a contender. The center chose Cleveland over Boston, San Antonio and Houston. The Cavaliers waived Jordan McRae to clear a roster spot for the big Australian.

“He brings a physicality, a shot-blocking presence, a guy who can pass the ball at the 5 position and that’s what we needed,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said.

Bogut is the latest high-profile acquisition for the Cavaliers, who signed free agent Deron Williams on Feb. 27. Williams averaged 13.1 points, 6.9 assists and 2.6 rebounds in 40 games with Dallas this season. He scored four points in 23 minutes in his Cleveland debut Wednesday.

“I’m just playing on the fly right now,” Williams said. “It’s going to take me a little bit of time, but not much. It’s easy to play with a group like this.”

Atlanta successfully opened its homestand Wednesday. The Hawks blew a 12-point second-half lead but hung on on to beat Dallas 100-95.

Forward Paul Millsap is coming off a near triple-double as he had 18 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds against the Mavs. Forward Ersan Ilyasova had his best night since joining the team Feb. 22 The veteran was 6-for-7 from the field and scored 18 against the Mavericks.

“It’s still going to take a little bit of time,” Ilyasova said. “Getting used to players who are going to be in the right spot, expecting a pass from me. It’s going to take a little time. I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Ilyasova may be best known for his offensive skills, particularly his threat as a 3-point shooter. But he drew an offensive foul against the Mavs and leads the league with 28 charges taken this season.

Cleveland lost to Boston 103-99 on Wednesday, despite getting a triple-double from LeBron James, who returned from a one-game absence with strep throat. It marked the first time this season the Cavaliers lost while leading at any point in the fourth quarter on the road. Cleveland has lost two of its last three games.

The game marks the return of Cavs’ forward Kyle Korver to Atlanta. The popular veteran played four-plus seasons with the Hawks and ranks third on the club’s all-time list of 3-pointers made. He was traded to Cleveland on Jan. 7.

Atlanta continues its homestand on Sunday against Indiana. Cleveland completes its three-game road trip at Miami on Saturday.