Cavaliers-Hawks Preview

The Atlanta Hawks got an up-close look at their likely

first-round playoff opponent in their latest game, and Joe Johnson

carried them to an impressive victory.

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 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.

James hasn’t played since April 6, while Mo Williams, Antawn

Jamison and Anthony Parker have also earned some time off.

Williams and Jamison played in the first three quarters of a

98-92 loss to the Magic on Sunday.

While those two are expected to start against the Hawks (52-29),

James and Shaquille O’Neal – who hasn’t played since Feb. 25

because of a sprained right thumb – will sit out.

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 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,

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.”