CLEVELAND — Random dribbles entering Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Cavaliers and visiting Hawks:
1. Most of you are probably on a boat somewhere, or having a cookout with your family. That’s great. It’s a beautiful holiday weekend. Relax. Have a good time. The Cavs won two games on the road. They probably don’t even need Kyrie Irving. They are now back home against a banged-up Hawks team.
2. But fans can afford to relax — the Cavaliers cannot. One win, and the Hawks are back in this series. One let-up, one slip-up, one loss. The Cavs can’t let it happen. This is where they need to put their foot on the accelerator and zip their way to the Finals.
3. As I wrote the other night, the Cavs need to treat every game like Game 7. To their credit, they’ve done that so far in the playoffs. Without Kevin Love, without a healthy Kyrie Irving, they are finding ways to win and seem to be having a lot of fun along the way. My good friend Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote that the Cavs have become "a blue-collar team." That’s right on.
4. Did you realize the Cavs are 6-1 on the road in the playoffs? Did you know the lone loss came on a miracle heave that banked in from the Bulls’ Derrick Rose? Frankly, the Cavs’ lone bad game of the postseason came in Game 1 vs. the Bulls at home. That’s what they need to avoid vs. the Hawks. It’s easy to lack energy on a lazy Sunday afternoon when the series is going your way.
5. Cavs star LeBron James from Sunday’s shootaround: "You never have control of a series until you end it."
6. LeBron added that he’s "just as desperate" entering Sunday’s game "as I was going into Game 1." He knows that as the team’s leader, it’s his job to rub off that vibe on the other guys. So far, so good — as everyone from Tristan Thompson to Matthew Dellavedova to J.R. Smith and beyond has come through in their first meaningful postseason.
7. You can also be sure LeBron is paying close attention to what’s going on out West. He is constantly watching and studying other games, and very much in tune with what is said by fans and media. So he has to notice that Stephen Curry and the Warriors are having their way with the Rockets.
8. My guess is LeBron may even be a little irritated with how Curry won MVP, how he’s become unstoppable, how he is sort of the NBA’s new Golden Child. If we know LeBron, we know he’s waiting for a shot at Curry and the Warriors. And we know he wants to end this series with the Hawks as soon as possible.
9. Back to Kyrie. He has been putting up shots and getting in some work, but remains questionable for Game 3. Personally, I’d hold him out until the Cavs lose (vs. the Hawks). I have a hunch they won’t, so may as well keep resting him. But I’m not the coach, and I concede that David Blatt knows way more than I do.
10. Meanwhile, the Hawks are without starting guard-forward Kyle Korver for the rest of the playoffs. He injured his ankle in a collision with Dellavedova in Game 2. Forward DeMarre Carroll has a badly sprained knee, but will play.
11. Despite the deficits and injuries, the Hawks are talking confidently. Kent Bazemore, who will start in place of Korver, said he still thinks the Hawks are the better team.
12. Carroll added: "We don’t want to end the season like this. But we’re only down 0-2. The media is going to make it bigger than it is. We’re just going to take it one game at a time and let the rest take care of itself."
13. Last word from LeBron on his teammates and the significance of closing out the series: "All I can do is try to lead them. I don’t know what they read and watch when they leave here. But I tell those guys how we should feel and how we should approach games — no matter if it’s Game 1 or Game 3 or Game 4, whatever the case may be."