Hawks look to halt 11-game skid to Cavs in playoff rematch
Cleveland ended Atlanta's season each of the last two years, but the team coming to Quicken Loans Arena on Tuesday night looks far different than the Hawks that the Cavaliers swept out of the playoffs each of the last two years.
The Cavs have won the last 11 meetings between the teams, including a sweep in the conference semifinals last spring when they set 3-point shooting records and won each game by an average of 12.5 points. Cleveland swept all seven meetings last season, including the playoffs.
Jeff Teague and Al Horford are gone from Atlanta, replaced in the starting lineup by Dwight Howard and Denis Schroder. Kyle Korver is also expected to miss Tuesday's game after the birth of a son on Sunday.
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, who also has a role in personnel decisions, said the roster shakeup wasn't an effort to simply get past the Cavaliers.
“You are constantly trying to get better,” Budenholzer told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We feel like this is a group that can be better. It has the potential to be more physical, hopefully even better defensively, more edgy.
“Can we still draw on the positives, the high IQ that we've had for two or three years and the unselfishness that we've had for two or three years and add a little more physical presence? We'll need that if we are playing Detroit, if we're playing Milwaukee, if we're playing Miami, if we're playing Memphis in the West.
“I'm hoping that this combination of players is something that is going to be very good.”
The Cavs are the league's last remaining unbeaten team at 6-0. They have displayed a habit of blowing big leads in games, allowing teams such as the Sixers, Celtics and Magic to fight back after building leads around 20 points or more.
Coach Tyronn Lue believes the Cavs can almost score too easily at times and then they quit working as hard on the defensive end. Cleveland is tied atop the league rankings in scoring with Golden State, averaging 112.3 points per game.
But Lue believes the Cavs can be even better offensively. Guys like Mike Dunleavy and J.R. Smith have missed open looks they'll usually make, and Kyrie Irving is coming off a 3-of-17 shooting performance in Saturday's win at Philadelphia.
“I think we're getting shots we want and not making them,” Lue said. “Our shooters are getting open shots, we're running the floor, we're playing unselfish, we're sharing the basketball and we're just not making shots at a high rate right now.
“We are making some 3s — taking a lot of them — but we're not shooting the ball quite as well as what we could.”
It's early, but the Hawks lead the league in steals.
James was named the Eastern Conference player of the week on Monday. He's two for two this season in winning the award.
As for the addition of Howard to the Hawks, Lue believes he can still be a dominant player in the NBA despite his recent injuries.
“I've just seen a lot of great players suffer injuries and never quite get back to who they were, but he's still a dominant player, still one of top two or three centers in the NBA,” Lue said. “And when you get hit with the injury and you can't bounce back like you want to, it's frustrating.
“The biggest thing for Dwight is he's been frustrated because he knew who he was as a young player, a young talent, and to not be able to reach his full potential because of the injury, that's tough for him.”