Cavaliers-Hawks Preview

After alternating wins and losses over a nine-game stretch, the

Atlanta Hawks could get on a roll against the reeling Cleveland

Cavaliers.

With Al Horford’s status unknown, the Hawks try to make it two

in a row Monday night as they host a Cavaliers team mired in a

season-worst eight-game losing streak.

Sitting percentage points behind fifth-place Chicago and 1 1/2

games in back of Brooklyn for fourth place in the Eastern

Conference, Atlanta (41-33) opened a four-game homestand with

Saturday’s 97-88 win over Orlando. Josh Smith had 21 points and

nine rebounds and Devin Harris added 17 points and six assists, but

it was Ivan Johnson who stole the show.

With Zaza Pachulia out for the season and Horford sidelined for

a second straight game due to a stomach illness, Johnson compiled

21 points and 10 rebounds in a career-high 34:28 off the bench.

“(Smith) has great length and athleticism,” Magic coach Jacque

Vaughn. “The Hawks have big, strong, physical guys that make it

tough to score on them. If it’s not Horford or Pachulia, then it’s

Ivan Johnson.”

Atlanta improved to 5-0 when Johnson plays at least 28 minutes

and 6-2 when he scores more than 10 points.

“He’s always – since last year – when somebody has gone out of

the lineup, he’s been coming in and stepping up and playing big

minutes for us,” said Smith, averaging 20.8 points over the last

six games. “This has just been the Ivan Johnson that we’ve grown to

know.”

Atlanta also got a boost from fellow reserve Shelvin Mack, who

added eight points.

“Ivan was the man,” coach Larry Drew said. “And Shelvin Mack is

kind of like a mini-Ivan with his energy.”

While the Hawks haven’t posted back-to-back wins since a

three-game run March 13-17, they have to like their chances

Monday.

Cleveland (22-50) has been outscored by an average of 13.7

points during its skid and saw its woes continue Sunday with a

112-92 loss at last-place New Orleans.

Kyrie Irving scored 31 points in his first game back since

missing eight due to a shoulder injury, but the Cavaliers struggled

defensively against the Hornets, who shot 54.1 percent and held a

45-31 edge on the glass.

“We came out soft (in the second half),” said coach Byron Scott,

whose team was outscored 64-43 over the last two quarters. “I did

not think we came out with the same intensity that we should have.

I do not know if they were just tired or whatever the case may

be.

“When you’re down 20 points, you cannot think to pick it up and

try to come back. It just does not happen that often in this

league.”

The Cavaliers had dropped seven straight to the Hawks by an

average of 14.6 points before taking two of three meetings this

season, including a 99-83 victory Jan. 9 behind 33 points from

Irving. Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller added 11 points apiece

and combined for 26 boards that night.

Irving is averaging 30.0 points on 61.1 percent shooting over

his last three matchups versus Atlanta. While the Cavaliers have

gone 9-4 when Irving scores at least 29 this season, they are 2-10

on the road when playing on the second of back-to-backs.

Cleveland has allowed 108.6 points per game in dropping five

straight on the road.